How to Keep Costs Down in Divorce
One of the things people dread most about divorce, besides the process itself, is how much it will cost. There is no doubt about it: divorce does cost money, and much of the cost comes from attorney fees. If you are thinking about divorce, you are probably also thinking about how to keep divorce costs down, and the best way to do that is by reducing attorney fees in your divorce.
There are smart ways to keep costs down, and ways that are...less smart. If you act wisely, you will not only lower divorce costs, but feel in greater control of your divorce process. Let’s talk about what to do, and what not to do, in managing your expenses.
If you are planning to file for divorce, you have the luxury of “getting your house in order,” so to speak, before you even consult an attorney. Getting organized will help both you and your attorney and help to keep costs down. Some of the things you will want to do include:
- Changing passwords on email and social media accounts
- Password protecting any devices that are used by you alone (and not using shared devices for anything to do with divorce research or communications
- Resetting your phone and to factory defaults. Your spouse might not be using your phone to spy on you, but a reset will eliminate any software that’s been downloaded onto your phone without your knowledge
- Gathering detailed financial information about you and your spouse: income tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, credit card bills, investment account statements, and retirement account information.
Some of these actions reduce your costs indirectly by making it more difficult for your spouse to gather potentially negative information about you. The last one keeps costs down more directly, because it saves your attorney time and effort.
What if your spouse was the one planning for divorce, and you are blindsided to be presented with divorce papers? Don’t panic. Proceed immediately to a divorce attorney to discuss your next steps.
Pay Your Divorce Attorney for (Only) the Right Work
You could eliminate legal fees entirely by not having a divorce lawyer at all, but unless your divorce is an extremely simple one with a short-term marriage, no children, and little property, not having a lawyer to help ensure a favorable outcome is likely to cost you more than you would save. This is especially true if your spouse has an attorney working on their behalf. Your divorce settlement will affect your life for years going forward, so having good representation is an investment.
Instead, pay your lawyer to do what she does best, and save money on your divorce by doing the things that are time-consuming and don’t require an attorney’s knowledge or skill. As a general rule, that means gathering the information that your attorney would otherwise need to chase down through the discovery process. That is often primarily financial information like that listed above, but can also include other information, such as copies of emails or screenshots of social media posts that reflect unfavorably on your spouse.
Ask your attorney what you can and should gather to help her and keep your legal fees down in divorce. She should counsel you to gather information to which you are entitled and can get access, but not to snoop or spy on your spouse.
Manage Your Communications
Divorce is stressful, and you may feel the need to check in frequently with your attorney, if only for reassurance. It’s good to stay in contact with your attorney, but beware of running up your bill with unnecessary or overlong phone calls. Before picking up the phone, ask yourself if you are dealing with a legal issue that you need to communicate with your lawyer about, or just need support or to vent. You might be better off calling someone else.
If it is a legal issue, ask yourself if a phone call is necessary or if an email would be more efficient. (Emails also provide a visual record of what was said so you and your attorney are on the same page.) Ask your attorney how to keep divorce costs down and still communicate effectively.
Hire a Good Divorce Attorney, Not a Cheap One
This may sound counterintuitive, but hiring a divorce attorney with the lowest hourly rate often isn’t a good way to save money. Here’s why: your legal fee is the attorney’s hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours (or fractions of hours) spent on your case. If you have an inexperienced attorney, their hourly rate might be lower, but they might take longer to do things, meaning that it could cost you as much as, or more than, hiring a more experienced attorney. In addition, the less-experienced attorney may not do as good a job.
On a related note, the ideal outcome in a divorce is an uncontested divorce in which you and your spouse agree on all the terms, or a negotiated divorce in which you quickly come to an agreement that works for you. Unfortunately, there are some attorneys who claim to “fight for” their clients, when what they really do is to keep their clients fighting—and running up legal bills. You want an attorney who will work and advocate for you, yes, but not someone who stirs up conflict just to inflate their fees.
Talk to Your Lawyer About How to Keep Divorce Costs Down
Most divorce attorneys would agree with the points above, but you shouldn’t be afraid to be candid with your attorney about your desire to reduce divorce costs. Attorneys know better than anyone how costly divorce can be, and your attorney should have your best interests at heart in this regard. Your attorney may have additional ideas about how to keep your divorce costs down without sacrificing the quality of your representation.