Divorce is a very complicated process that can cost a lot, especially if the parties allow their emotions to govern their decision-making. Here are some cost-cutting ideas.
- Don't use your attorney as your therapist. Most divorce lawyers are known as "attorneys and counselors." That means that they should provide you with their opinions and legal advice. It does not mean that they also provide therapeutic services. They will charge for all phone calls, emails, texts and other communication at their hourly rate. At the beginning of your divorce, identify a divorce coach or therapist to help you deal with the emotional issues that arise. Make a list of issues as they arise so you can work with your coach systematically and efficiently. When necessary, confer with your attorney about your issues.
- Don't ask friends and family members for legal advice. Having a strong network of family and friends to help you is often critical to surviving this difficult time. However, recognize that however well intentioned your friends and family members are in providing advice, your divorce is unique from other cases. Granted most share the same issues; child support, child custody, parenting time, spousal support or alimony and property settlement. What worked in your sister's case, may not work in your case. Often your family and friends are driven by their own emotions about your case. They will also not want to jeopardize their relationship with you. Ask your professional team; your lawyer, coach, financial professional for their opinions. Then assure your friends and family that you have a strong professional team who are helping you work through this.
- Remember Divorce is a Process. Usually, at the beginning, you will feel like your world is spinning out of control. As you work through the various issues, your future will become clearer. Give it time. My clients often remark that they are pleased that they had time to consider their options and explore ways to get through this divorce. The settlement that they ended up with is often very different at the end than where they would have started. Counsel your friends and family to be patient and support you as you explore your way through it.
- Know your attorney. Who you hire as an attorney will have a huge impact on the cost of your case. If you hire someone who is aggressive and favors using the judge to resolve your differences, then there will be delays imposed by the court schedule. There will also be formal exchanges of information that can be expensive. Your attorney may also be reluctant to discuss settlement. On the other hand, you do not want to be represented by an attorney who handles only a few divorce cases each year and has a limited knowledge about divorce. On another continuum, you want to avoid the attorney who has a reputation of giving in to the other attorney's demands too easily. In other words, you want an attorney who listens to you; who "hears" your objectives for your family and will help you reach those objectives. If you cherish an on-going relationship with your spouse, then you will want an attorney who is a strong negotiator and who will work well with collaborative-minded professionals.
- Don't wait to mediate. Mediation can be started before you file the divorce. That frees you up to schedule the sessions to meet your convenience, not the court schedule. People who are not represented by attorneys can mediate. People who are represented may decide to mediate without having their attorneys present. A real cost saving aspect of mediation is that you both feel heard, you both can discuss and decide how to handle your interim financial situation and avoid surprises. You can exchange financial information informally, rather than using interrogatories, subpoenas or depositions. You can hired neutral professionals to help you value your assets, such as your home or a business. The sooner you start this process, the more in control you and your spouse will feel, reducing the level of conflict. Mediating early can eliminate the costs of litigation.
- Failing to consult with a financial planner. Some people overestimate their future earning capacity. Some people are so fearful of not having sufficient support and earnings that they panic. Working with a financial professional can help you develop a realistic plan of what you will need in the future, how to divide your assets and debts realistically, how to minimize your taxes and other expenses, and how to increase the available income for your family.
- Pick your battles. Especially at the beginning of a divorce, clients have a "fight or flight" mentality. This comes from the very strong emotions that divorce generates. With your coach, develop a list of what really matters. Be prepared to let go of some of your lower priority items to gain what is really important.
Having a strategical plan for resolving your differences can save a lot of wear and tear on you and your family and save you a lot of money. Assemble a team who can help you get through the process and stay focused on what really matters.