The Best Ways Clients Can Minimize Divorce Attorney Fees by Daniel R. Stefani
There are many components that add to the stress of going through a divorce, one of them being attorney’s fees. Already concerned about finances, couples going through a divorce are now receiving a new monthly expense that can seem overwhelming and scary. That said, hiring an effective attorney who puts in the time to get you the best outcome possible is not only necessary, but worth the cost.
On a positive note, there are ways clients can minimize divorce attorney fees and end up with lower monthly bills, which in turn will reduce that element of anxiety. Here are seven things you can do to minimize your attorneys fees:
1. Do your own homework, if possible. Specifically in divorces, there is a lot of due diligence required in terms of disclosing the nature and extent of each party’s assets, liabilities, income and expenses. There are not only court forms that need to be filled out, but source documents like checking account statements, check registers, canceled checks, credit card statements and other account statements that need to be gathered and exchanged between the parties. A lot of those tasks can be done by the client, instead of paying high hourly rates to have their attorney hunt down this information and fill out these forms. Additionally, depending on the client’s level of economic sophistication, the client can take a major role in helping to quantify the family’s historic household and family living expenses which is necessary to help quantify both maintenance and child support obligations. It’s not easy to do your own homework, especially if you have a full or part-time job, and young children. That said, I believe that people who take on more responsibility become more productive and time-efficient. It’s up to you, but even though the workload might seem a bit overwhelming at first, seeing lower attorneys bills could be well worth the time spent.
2. Your lawyer is not your therapist. “He has a new girlfriend,” “She’s being very rude to me,” “I wasted 20 years of my life with him,” “She just threw our marriage away.” These are some of the things a person getting divorced should talk about with a therapist-not a divorce attorney.While the emotional part of a divorce is heartbreaking and extremely difficult, your divorce attorney’s primary job is not to console your emotions, (although we are very sympathetic to the situation) but rather to put into place the best possible business agreement between you and your ex, both for the financial and parenting aspects of your divorce, and to give you the best possible future. If you are need emotional support, friends, family, your therapist, faith, hobbies, and exercise are great outlets.
3. Have your lawyer give you a cost benefit analysis before certain actions are taken. For example, if you have a $2000 controversy with your soon-to-be ex, don’t spend $10,000 in attorney’s fees to get the $2000. Think about the big picture and the future—not every penny. It’s easy to be petty when emotions are running high, and sometimes you have to ignore the principle of the issue, and just take a small loss to avoid a larger one in attorney’s fees. It’s not easy, but it’s all part of divorce.
4. Take advantage of other attorneys and staff at your attorney’s firm. Be clear with your attorney up front as to who is working on your file and how your attorney plans on identifying the various roles of the associate attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and legal assistants. For example, you don’t need to pay a partner $600 per hour to fill out court forms or to file a petition for dissolution of marriage. An associate can do the job, sometimes for half the hourly rate.
5. Try speaking directly to your soon-to-be ex. This is not easy, but can be very, very effective. The more litigants can communicate directly with each other and resolve issues, the less they pay attorneys. For example, if there are minor children, the parties should attempt to come up with a parenting schedule themselves and bring it to their attorney to write up a formal agreement. Financial issues can also be agreed upon. That said, make sure to consult your attorney before committing to anything with your soon-to-be ex.
6. Be smart about questions. Try to save up severeal questions for your attorney versus calling or emailing him or her every time something pops up in your mind. Having one conversation on multiple topics is typically less costly than having a series of independent conversations. That said, if it is an emergency, contact your attorney immediately.
In closing, remember that divorce attorneys bill hourly. As such, the more time spent on your case, the more it will cost. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, resentment and a vindictive attitude can cloud reasonable judgment and cause poor decision making.
The best advice I can give is to look at your divorce as a business arrangement—the same way you would handle buying a home, buying a car, refinancing your home, doing your taxes, reviewing your financial plan, creating a will, etc. That way of thinking helps keep emotions in check, and makes the process go quicker, (which makes it less expensive). But the best thing it does is, it keeps your focus on the future, not the past.
Daniel R. Stefani is principal and the co-Founder of the Chicago law firm, Katz & Stefani. To learn more, visit: http://www.katzstefani.com/daniel-r-stefani.