It’s hard to estimate the cost of a divorce ahead of time, because there are so many factors that affect it. In a lot of cases, the choices you make can have a direct impact on the cost of your divorce. Sometimes, the attorney you hire affects how much your divorce will cost. Still, there are other things, like how difficult your husband or the attorney he hires are, that can drive up costs and are beyond your control.
If you’ve ever wondered how much divorce costs, you’re in the right place. This is a question I’ve had to answer time and time again, so I know there are lots of people out there who are wondering the same thing. So, I decided to write this article about legal fees in divorce and, since I had so much to say, I turned it into a two part piece. Today, we’ll talk a little bit about what you choices you can make in order to keep your legal fees low. Keep in mind that, with respect to some things, there are a lot of choices that you can make that will help to ensure that the process move a lot quicker and cost a lot less. Then, on Wednesday, we’ll talk about how much divorce really costs, including the kinds of questions you should be asking your lawyer to be sure that you set yourself up for the most cost effective divorce possible. There are similarities between how law firms operate, but there are some differences, too, so it’s a good idea to have an idea about what is normal, what questions you should be asking, and how law firms typically handle fees.
Divorce costs are varied, and there are a ton of different factors that come into play when you start talking about exactly how much you can expect to pay.
Probably, you’re most concerned with the choices you can make that will keep your divorce as affordable as possible. Like with anything else, you really can’t control what other people are doing, even though it sometimes has a negative impact on you. You can’t control how difficult your husband will be, or how litigious his attorney is. Will your husband refuse, over and over, to sign your separation agreement? Will his attorney try to file a bunch of motions to drag you into court, costing you time and money and not getting you any closer to settlement? Hopefully not, of course, but all you can control is yourself, and the best way to help promote a quick, easy, efficient and, above all, cost effective divorce is to keep the end in mind at the beginning.
What choices do I need to make at the beginning to keep my divorce cost-effective?
Play nice before and during your divorce
You would be surprised how much control you have over things from the very first moment you decide to get divorced. No matter what happened to you in your marriage to bring you to the point where you decided to end things, it hasn’t been easy. There are hurt feelings, anger, and resentment. This is something that is immediately obvious in almost every marriage that is ending. You’re not alone in the way that you’re feeling, and you’re not wrong to feel the way that you do. Still, you have a choice in how you react to your feelings, and the best way to react, especially if you want to save money on your divorce, is calmly and rationally.
I know, I know. It’s really hard! Whether you’re the kind of person who feels like you want to yell, scream, cry, or withdraw from the world completely, it’s incredibly difficult to ignore your emotions and behave calmly and rationally, especially if he isn’t behaving that way himself. Still, for the sake of your divorce (not to mention you own sanity and the sanity of any children the two of you may have together), it’s best to try to stay as calm, cool, and collected as possible.
In my experience, the way a couple reacts to the upcoming divorce has a lot to do with the choices that are made in the beginning. If you’re ugly and aggressive, he’ll be ugly and aggressive back to you. It may start out as an argument over smaller things, like how your personal property is going to be divided. It may include some nasty name calling, or belittling insults. But, from there, the ugliness only expands and gets more and more expensive to maintain. If he’s angry at you when he goes into his attorney’s office, he’ll be looking for someone who is ready to fight to the death in the courtroom. He’ll be saying all the things that create the kind of case that costs big bucks, like that you’re crazy and so he wants custody, and you deserted him when you moved out of the marital home and so he wants to pursue a fault-based divorce (more on that later). He’ll say that he wants to fight tooth and nail over every little thing, because that’s the way things have been between the two of you. He doesn’t want to feel like the he just showed up and got bull dozed, and you don’t want to feel that way, either.
Whatever direction your relationship has taken in the days and weeks immediately following your decision to get a divorce will probably affect the direction your divorce takes. It’s always much, much easier to establish a good divorce from the beginning than it is to start out with a bad divorce and switch it over into a good one. Once you start the name calling, bickering, and constant fighting, you pave the road for the future. Once the mistrust and bad blood exists, it’s hard to make it go away. If you can stay calm and rational, come up with an agreement about how things should be split, and speak respectfully to each other, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to establish a cordial, respectful, amicable divorce.
Aside from the fact that amicable divorces tend to cost far, far less than litigated divorces, there are other benefits to you (and your children) as well. Although I’m advising you to keep your anger and irritation to yourself for the sake of your finances, this is the same advice I would give you if you told me you were worried about the impact of the divorce on you or your children over the long term. The way to have the most left over to start over and to take care of the emotional health of the people involved in the divorce is to keep things as amicable as possible.
Fault versus no fault divorce
In the beginning, you’ll also have to make some big decisions about the kind of divorce you want to get. Yes, there is a difference!
In Virginia, we recognize fault based and no fault divorce. Can you guess which is the most expensive? It’s probably pretty obvious. If you want to allege (and prove!) fault, it’s going to cost more time and take more money.
The fault based grounds we recognize in Virginia are adultery, sodomy, buggery, cruelty, apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion, abandonment, and felony conviction. We’re not going to go into a ton of detail about each of these things here, but if you’d like more information on fault based divorce, just click here to be redirected to another article like this one with more information on the subject. Each of these things has a specific burden of proof, meaning that you have to provide the court with a certain amount of evidence to convince the judge that you’re right and your grounds do exist.
Even if your husband admits that he committed one of these things, you will still have to prove it to the judge. There is no such thing as him signing a separation agreement admitting that he did what you said he did, and therefore it is proven and you get your divorce with those grounds listed. You have to actually go to court and present evidence in order to prove it to the judge.
A no fault divorce, on the other hand, does not require that you go to court at all. It doesn’t mean that no fault based grounds exist, it just means that you have decided to move forward without using them as a basis for your divorce. Most no fault divorces are resolved with a separation agreement, which is a legal contract between the two of you that determines how your assets and liabilities will be divided.
Contested versus uncontested divorce
The next step is deciding whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested. Again, it definitely makes a difference! In an uncontested divorce, the parties have already reached an agreement (a separation agreement) regarding how all their assets and liabilities will be divided. Since they’ve decided these things for themselves, there’s no need to ask a judge to help.
In a contested divorce, on the other hand, the parties haven’t reached a decision regarding how everything will be divided, so a judge has to help do it for them. As you can probably imagine, going to court costs more money than settling outside of court. Your attorney has to prepare for court, gather evidence, prepare witnesses, attend various settlement conferences, and so on. It’s pretty expensive!
A fault based divorce is always contested because, at the very least, the other party can’t just agree that they committed the fault alleged in the complaint. Automatically, if you opt for a fault based divorce, you’re going to wind up in court, and that will cost you more money.
A no fault divorce, on the other hand, can be either contested or uncontested. Most no fault divorces are uncontested, but not always. Just because you don’t want to pursue fault based grounds (or if fault based grounds legitimately don’t exist) doesn’t mean that you are automatically able to reach an agreement about how everything is going to be divided.
If saving money is your goal, you want an uncontested, no fault divorce. If you want to explore other options, you probably want to talk to an attorney.
Is an uncontested, no fault divorce really my best bet? If he did something bad, won’t he get punished?
Theoretically, it is possible that your husband’s fault could be used against him when the property is divided. However, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the chances are slim and none that the property division will be changed to the point that it makes it financially beneficial for you to pursue a fault based divorce.
Think of it this way. When you watch TV or see movies about lawyers, you usually see personal injury cases. The person suing is suing a big company, with lots of money, so, at the end of the case, that person ends up with millions and millions of dollars. A divorce case is not like that. You are essentially “suing” your husband (or he’s suing you, depending on who filed first). Unless you had millions and millions of dollars during your marriage, you’re not going to get millions of dollars in your divorce. Probably what you’ll get is something pretty close to half of what you had during the marriage. The more money you spend fighting over how things are going to be divided, or trying to prove that a fault based ground for divorce exists, the smaller your half (and, of course, his half) will be.
I don’t think it’s likely that the judge will seriously “punish” your husband for his bad acts. It’s probably a safer bet to pursue an uncontested, no fault divorce, if what you’re really after is as much money as possible to start your new life afterwards.
As you start to consider your divorce, keep these points in mind. If you’re ready to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200. We’ll be glad to help!