The Cost of a Divorce
There are many factors to consider when considering a divorce. One of the big questions centers on attorneys’ fees and court costs.
Statistically speaking, the internet is full of undocumented claims that the average cost of a divorce is $20,000. Many sites declare that a divorce can range from $2,500-$100,000 depending on whether the divorce is uncontested or disputed issues, like custody, are raised. None of these claims are based on real data divided up by geographical areas in which the parties to the divorce live. We all know that it is far more expensive to pay for anything in a big city as compared to a rural location, so how can these statements be accurate? We just don’t know.
But, what we do know is that each divorce is very different and there is no way to predict the total cost. And the attorney that tells you that upfront during the initial consultation is dealing with you fairly and honestly. Run from the attorney who tells you that you will be divorced within a specific time frame and for under a certain amount of money. This attorney is lying to you from the start.
Generally speaking, the more disagreement there is between the parties, the higher the cost of the divorce. Simple uncontested cases will cost less than those cases where the parties disagree or the nature of the assets are very complex, like owning a small business. Other factors play a role in the total fees necessary to bring the case to a conclusion, too, like whether you hire an attorney on a full service basis or purchase unbundled legal services ala carte.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR…USUALLY.
Often times, you will be told that the least expensive divorce is one that is mediated…the person usually telling you this is a mediator. Other times, you will be told that the least expensive divorce is one that utilizes “collaborative law” approach. This is usually touted by those attorneys, accountants, therapist who participate in the program sponsored by the Collaborative Law Institute or some similar program that requires them to refer cases to one another.
The real truth is that neither of these approaches will guarantee you an inexpensive divorce. Rather, they do guarantee that you will have hired multiple individuals who call themselves “specialists” or “experts” in their particular field. Hiring these so-called experts or specialists does not mean you will not need a lawyer or that you will “settle out of court”. Rather, it ensures that you will pay more because you have hired all these people with their hands out to do what a good lawyer should already being doing for you. Bottom line: you will have to hire a lawyer to do the paperwork. Why hire all these others too?
Keeping the Lid on Attorney’s fees:
Over the years, we have experienced everything from the client who attempts (and sometimes succeeds) in negotiating the entire settlement directly with their soon-to-be ex-spouse to the client who knows nothing about the financial affairs of the other party. Here are some suggestions for helping your attorney, and therefore, keeping the cost of your divorce to a minimum:
- Get Organized. Locate and copy income tax forms, mortgage statements, bank account statements, 401(k) plans, paystubs, and other financial documentation immediately.
- Provide documents to your attorney and answer his/her questions timely. Forcing the attorney to hound you for information only drives up the cost of the divorce.
- Don’t call the attorney constantly with questions. Save them up for one call.
- Don’t call/email your attorney solely to ask about the “status” of your matter. Rest assured, a good attorney will notify you when something new happens or your input is required.
- Negotiate and settle issues with your spouse in advance, if possible. But, leave the drafting of the settlement agreement or parenting agreement to the attorney.
- Do not make specific promises to your spouse before talking to your lawyer. Doing so may inadvertently affect your legal position negatively and frustrate the negotiation process when you renege on the promise.
- Don’t fight over the used furniture/pots and pans/big screen television. It will cost you more to have the lawyer to fight for ownership of these items than the items are worth.
- Pick your battles. Don’t go to trial over issues “for the sake of the matter” or the “principle of it”. You will always lose more than you gain.
- Let your attorney do what is necessary to protect your interest. Don’t micromanage your case. Your attorney has done this before many, many times. You have not.
- Don’t use the same attorney as your spouse. This will cost you in the end when the settlement document does not reflect a fair, equitable agreement.
Our Promise To You:
It is true that each law firm or attorney will have its/his/her own fee structure. At McPherson Harry & Associates, P.C., Ltd., you will discuss our fees upfront. If you retain our office, our agreement as to fees will be made in writing to you in the form of an Attorney-Client Fee Agreement. There are no hidden charges and we do not mark-up our costs that are passed on to you. You are not routinely charged per page for facsimiles or copies. You will receive a detailed billing statement each month. You will know how much time has been spent on your case by each attorney and paralegal who works on your file. You will learn how much of your retainer has been used and when you will be expected to replenish it. It is all very transparent.