by Myra Chack Fleischer
Lead Counsel, Fleischer & Ravreby
There is an old joke about divorce.
Humor is rooted in the truth. The truth is that sometimes getting divorced can cost a lot of money. The legal fees can seem out of proportion after it’s all over and the parties involved tally up what they’ve “won” in the form of spousal or child support or property like a home.
But here is another important truth. The cost of a divorce is largely up to you. Your actions determine whether legal fees keep adding up, or whether they can be managed in a reasonable way and minimized.
These are the recommendations I provide to my own clients when they express the need to control their spending on their divorce.
1. Just the facts
Your family law attorney needs to gather all the facts of your case. He or she needs specific information to prepare certain documents and begin the divorce process. The more efficiently and accurately you can provide the necessary information to your attorney, the easier it is for your attorney to get up to speed and prepare documents. Easier equals quicker, and quicker means less expensive if you are paying by the hour.
Don’t think because you “hide” something it will go away. The truth always comes out. Your attorney prefers to avoid surprises.
2. Honesty is the best policy
As part of the divorce process, each side collects as much detailed information about the other side’s circumstances as possible. Written questions are drafted (called interrogatories), and requests for documents and records are made. Depositions are often used, where witnesses are put under oath and asked more extensive questions with all answers on the record. There is no reason not to be forthcoming with your attorney about the good, the bad, and the ugly. The longer it takes to put the story together, the more it costs.
3. Be prepared
If you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse cannot settle your disagreements outside of the courts on your own, with or without help from professionals, you will end up in a trial. This is when divorce gets expensive. Try to avoid this if possible. Consider Collaborative Divorce or mediation as a more efficient, cost-effective way to work things out.
If you are heading to court, a lot of preparation is required. There are simply no shortcuts. There are endless details that must be gathered and verified. Your attorney must be diligent on your behalf and determine how best to use the facts to best persuade a judge to make a decision protecting your interests.
It takes time to prepare the parties and witnesses for a courtroom appearance. This is a new and intimidating experience for most people. They need to understand what will happen when they provide testimony, especially when they are cross-examined and challenged by the other party’s attorney.
4. Watch the clock in court
Assuming you don’t decide on a resolution along the way, you will find yourself in a courtroom where a third party – the judge – will make decisions for you since you cannot. A family law judge will listen to all of the testimony, read all of the written documents, and consider the total sum of all evidence presented by both sides. The judge will then render a decision on all of the issues on which you and your ex-spouse disagree.
Trials can last a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks. Complex cases can last months. Juggling the schedules of everyone involved can make it challenging to get everyone in the courtroom at the same time. Factor in work and family conflicts, sick days and vacations for more delays. If there are lengthy delays, more time is added to get back up to speed.
5. Family court cutbacks
Many family law courts across the country have experienced funding cutbacks from their state governments. The result is often a shortage of courtroom space or a shortage of personnel available for the amount of cases waiting for a trial. It not only takes longer for you to get divorced, it takes even more time invested by your attorney and other professionals involved to stay up to speed. None of this helps the bottom line.
Have you picked up on a common theme? Time is money where a divorce case is concerned.
You can help save costs by working through the process with your attorney as swiftly and openly as possible. Make decisions in a timely manner; get expert help from a licensed financial professional specializing in divorce, and mental health professional if necessary.
For many reasons including cost, consider a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution that keeps you out of the courtroom, but still allows both sides to work through disagreements. A Collaborative Divorce can present an ideal way to advocate for your interests without the enormous investment of time and money necessary for a litigated divorce.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Follow Myra on Facebook and on Twitter.