by Susan Rapp, CLS-F, Family Law Attorney
There are a number of ways to resolve parenting, property, debt, and support issues in a divorce. These methods include Collaborative Divorce, hiring an attorney and attempting to settle issues outside of court, going to court and litigating unresolved issues, and working with an impartial mediator, with or without attorney involvement.
I have been a family law attorney for over 25 years. No matter which approach you take, there are several things you can do to reduce attorney fees and costs, minimize feelings of a loss of control over your life and the divorce process, and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the divorce.
Here are some of the things I have found will help you achieve these goals:
(1) Determine at the beginning of your case, what income, asset, and debt documentation will be needed. If you are working with an attorney or mediator, ask for a list. Whenever possible, pull together and organize the documents yourself. Otherwise, you are going to pay your attorney’s office to do it. You will likely be asked for documentation of earned and unearned income for you and your spouse, your last two years of income tax returns, and documentation of assets owned and debts owed by you and/or your spouse, as of the date you separated. Nearly all banks, financial institutions, and credit card companies make several months or years of statements available on line. When real property is involved, locate and copy your most recent deed, as well as a recent mortgage statement. If you or your spouse have retirement interests or investment accounts, obtain recent account statements. Organize your information and documentation chronologically, and by account or debt. Keep an identical copy of whatever you give your attorney, spouse, or mediator so you can readily access the information if there are follow-up questions.
(2) E-mail communications to your attorney and her or his staff are usually more cost efficient than phone calls. Some divorces take several months or longer to complete. Keep your e-mails to and from your attorney. If you aren’t sure that you already asked a particular question or got an answer, review your e-mails before contacting your attorney’s office. You might find the answer in an earlier communication you’ve forgotten due to the passage of time.
(3) Unless you believe the matter is truly time-sensitive or an emergency, review, finalize, and transmit written communications to your attorney a day or more after you draft the communication. In the interim one or more issues may resolve without attorney involvement, or you may find the answer to questions some other way. If you end up not contacting your attorney, you don’t get billed. When you review your drafts a day or so later, you may find a better or clearer way to communicate the information or ask the question. (This is also a good suggestion for attorneys).
(4) Have a written list of everything you want to ask or go over when you speak to your attorney or staff. Prepare a follow-up e-mail, or a memo to yourself confirming the important points of what you discussed.
(5) Buy and learn how to use an all-in-one printer, scanner, and fax machine. Scanned documents that are either e-mailed or “burned” onto a CD disk and sent or delivered to the attorney’s office are generally preferred. Preparing and transmitting documents this way will save you time and money.
(6) Request a periodic update from your attorney. Determine what still needs to be done, and approximately how long will it take. Ask what you can do to keep things moving.
(7) Be open to settlement. Arrange a phone or office conference with your attorney a week or more before any settlement conference with your spouse and his or her attorney. Verbalize your settlement preferences, and ask your attorney to identify the pros and cons of various settlement options. Meeting with your attorney a week or so in advance of the settlement conference will give you time to think about settlement options and clarify your position on disputed issues.
(8) Last but not least, have a good outside support system. If that’s friends or family, be sure they are objective. Go to a therapist, even if you don’t think you need to go. If there’s ever a time a therapist is needed, it’s when you’re getting divorced.
If you follow these suggestions, I predict you will achieve the goals identified.