The Outrageous Cost of Divorce

By Staff Writer

Divorce and litigation can be extremely expensive. Anyone who has been through the process will likely tell you that they were surprised, not only by the total cost, but by how quickly their money was spent. It is not uncommon for a spouse involved in a litigated divorce to spend more than $10,000 and even more than $30,000 to complete their divorce. More upsetting is that both the husband and wife will spend similar sums of money on their divorce.

You do have options. You are doomed to spend your nest-egg or retirement savings on divorcing your spouse. You must look at the divorce process from your attorney’s perspective; as a business. You are a consumer in this process and, as a consumer, there are steps that you can and should take to minimize the costs of litigation. If you follow the strategies outlined below, you can significantly lower your legal bill and focus your attorneys time on the important issues and goals of your case.

Your first step should be to be goal oriented. Remember that your attorney bills you for his or her time. Make sure that the time your attorney spends on your case will go toward meeting your goal. Before any step is taken, carefully review with your attorney the pros and cons of the proposed action. If you are not satisfied that by taking the action you will be moved closer to reaching your goal, do not authorize your attorney to proceed. Oftentimes, clients ask attorneys to take actions that, by and large, will not further their case. For example, if your spouse angers you, it may be incredibly tempting to ask your attorney to write a strong letter to the other attorney. Before you act, however, you must ask yourself what good sending this letter will do. Your attorney will bill you for your phone call explaining the issue and for the letter. Your spouse’s attorney will bill your spouse for responding, and your attorney will bill you for reviewing the response and for explaining it to you. When all is said and done, you need to consider what you will obtain out of that process. If your primary purpose is to vindicate your feelings or shame, anger or otherwise wound your spouse emotionally, it is likely that your money could be better spent.

Do not call your attorney unnecessarily. While it may make you feel temporarily better to assail your attorney with tales of your spouses’ latest transgression, you will realize the error of your ways as your retainer funds are quickly depleted by repeated and unnecessary phone calls. Rather than call your attorney every time your spouse gives you your support check on Saturday morning rather than Friday evening, make a note of the general problems pending in your case to discuss with your lawyer at the same time. This analysis should also be considered when emailing your attorney. Are you a "serial emailer"? Your attorney will bill you for every email and for every response. Many attorneys have minimum time charges for every phone call, email or letter. If you call or email everyday, you will incur those charges every day. Discussing all of your pending problems during one phone call or email on an intermittent basis is much less expensive than incurring repeat charges for minor issues.

At the time you hire your lawyer, find out who else will be working on your file and their billable rates. If your lawyer employs associate attorneys, paralegals or secretaries, their billable rate may be lower than that of your primary attorney. By contacting these individuals for routine matters such as scheduling or basic questions, you will save money. You should also carefully review the bills your attorney sends to you. Mistakes can unfortunately be made. By reviewing your bills you can catch these errors and immediately call them to your attorney’s attention.

Finally, be aware of your attorney’s role. His or her job is to provide you with legal advice and assistance. While you may become friendly with your lawyer, his or her role is not that of therapist or friend. Attorneys bill for the time spent talking to clients. If you call your attorney to discuss your feelings rather than your case, you will likely be billed for this conversation. Your time, and money, would be better spent calling a friend or speaking with a therapist.