(see also Unbundled Services)
A divorce or child custody proceeding can rarely be funded from spare cash or current earnings. A divorce often deals with the division of a lifetime of accumulated assets, as well as the amount of spousal maintenance and/or child support a client will be paying or receiving for many years.
This serious life event usually cannot be funded out of current cash flow. You may, therefore, be forced to liquidate investments or even borrow money to hire and pay an attorney.
Nevertheless, here is a list of things you can do to minimize your overall fees
1. Pick your battles. Not everything is worth arguing over. A law office charges at an hourly rate, therefore, the more work there is for an attorney to do directly corresponds to more hours that will be billed in your case. Let the small things go, and try to focus on the larger issues in order to conserve financial and emotional resources.
2. When your attorney’s office asks you to provide documents to them, make sure you provide exactly what they are requesting. Try to be organized, clear, and focused on providing exactly what is requested.
3. Address concerns with the paralegal or legal secretary first. Paralegals and legal secretaries have considerable knowledge. Typically, paralegals and legal secretaries charge a significantly lower hourly rate than attorneys do. If you have an issue that the legal secretary or paralegal cannot resolve for you, they will bring it to the attention of the attorney and make sure that the attorney gets back with you to resolve the matter.
4. Work toward agreements in a timely manner. Often, people wait until the very day of their final Hearing with the Court to enter into agreements on outstanding issues. They end up paying their attorneys for all the time it took to prepare for and show up at the hearing, whereas, if the same agreements had been reached a couple of weeks earlier, they would have prevented significant expenses from being incurred.
5. Speak with a counselor or a support group. Divorce and child custody proceedings are emotionally exhausting and challenging events in a person’s life. Attorneys rarely have the training to provide good mental health advice. Try to direct the emotional venting or support seeking to a support group or a qualified counselor. The support group or counselor will likely be less expensive and more qualified to meet your emotional needs.
6. Be responsive and responsible. If your attorney’s office asks you to do something, it is in your interest to do it promptly.
7. Beware of attorneys who increase conflict. Hire an attorney who will be confident and straightforward enough to tell you if they think an issue is not worth fighting over. Unnecessary conflict leads to unnecessary cost.
8. Try to be civil and respectful to the other party at all times. This is the path to facilitating negotiation and agreement. It will also help your case. This is particularly important if you have children together.
9. Compile a list of all questions and save it for the next appointment with the attorney This is more time efficient than addressing each question as it arises. Be careful about the amount of email exchanges you have with your attorney calling for answers to your detailed questions. Your attorney may not be a fast typist. Be aware that even with a good typist, it takes about 4 times a long to type it as it does to say it. You are paying for the attorney’s time. Lord help you if he or she is a hunt an peck typist!
10. If your marriage has a reasonable chance of being saved, we typically discourage the filing of a dissolution or legal separation proceeding until you are fully and completely convinced that a dissolution or legal separation of your marriage is what you desire. The filing of a dissolution or legal separation proceeding to show the other party that you "mean business" usually complicates the chances of saving your marriage.
However, if you are contemplating a dissolution or legal separation, it is a good idea to set a consultation with a family law attorney in order to learn what your rights are, and to make sure there are not unusual issues present which may make it important to go ahead and file for a dissolution or legal separation before you are completely convinced that your marriage is over.