It’s hard to know where to cut costs in your divorce. It seems like, when it comes to legal fees, there are lots of places where you can cut costs. But, like we discussed on Wednesday, the things that most people tend to think are the most important when it comes to making a decision about whom to hire usually aren’t the things that actually impact overall cost.
So many people are concerned about what the initial consultation and the retainer cost that they don’t stop to think about how much the attorney actually charges per hour, which, honestly, is where the majority of the costs of the divorce comes from. And, normally, the attorney’s hourly rate varies, depending on their level of experience. So, like most things, you probably are getting what you’re paying for.
As you’re probably already acutely aware, there’s a lot at stake in a divorce case. In most cases, we’re not just talking about who gets the towels and the bedsheets and the KitchenAid mixer, we’re talking about retirement, pensions, investments, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and other big money assets. (Of course, in other cases, the issue is more about debt—but, of course, the financial risks in either case are, in most cases, substantial.)
It’s hard to think of the cost of an attorney as anything more than that—an expense. And, as an expense, it’s something that, as a line item, needs to be reduced. You don’t have the money to spend $5,000 on an attorney! Right? That’s how a lot of people feel. And there’s no question that it’s a very understandable feeling. In order to save the money that you have in hand right this minute, and make sure that you have the ability to set yourself up for the best possible fresh start post divorce, you’ve got to be thinking in terms of conservation and careful spending. Right?
Let’s just say that a divorce costs $5,000. It’s a ballpark figure, and, as an average across all different types of divorce (if you’re including contested and uncontested divorces), it’s probably a middle of the road figure. Some people get uncontested divorces for much less, and others get contested divorces for much, much more. But let’s just take an approximate average, just for the sake of discussion.
Five thousand dollars is a lot of money to most people. I’m not talking about Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian here; I’m talking about regular, run of the mill, middle class Americans. It’s a lot of money to us normal folks. There’s no doubt about it.
But, in a divorce, we’re dividing assets that are worth a lot. Your retirement, your home, your cars and boats, and all of your other assets have a specific monetary value. In most cases, these things are worth exponentially more than $5,000.
My fear is that, in order to save a couple thousand dollars on their divorce up-front, people will settle for less than ideal representation—which, ultimately, has a financial price tag.
Is it worth saving a couple thousand now, if you lose out on tens of thousands later? In many cases, effective, zealous representation is their saving grace. Without someone fighting for you, in your corner, with your best interests at heart, it’s easy to be led astray. With stakes as high as they are in most divorce cases, is that a risk you want to take?
You can count pennies and save money on certain things, but there are other things (like plastic surgery, for example) where it’s worth spending extra to be sure you’re getting the best. It’s not like shopping for a pair of shoes, where six or eight different online retailers sell the exact same thing, all at different prices. Then, you comparison shop for deals. You Google coupon codes. You call and ask for price matches or additional discounts. That’s fine. That makes sense. That’s all part of being a savvy shopper. I applaud you for that. In fact, I do it, too.
But, when it comes to cutting costs in your divorce, you have to ask yourself, “Am I cutting costs now, only to cost myself more money later?”
I listen to lots of women agonize over the decision to hire a divorce attorney. Most of their hesitation is rooted in the fact that it’s relatively expensive. (That’s particularly true if it’s looking like your divorce may be contested.) Whether they decide to hire an attorney or not, the choice is ultimately up to them. Still, if hiring an attorney is something that you’re agonizing over, read the list below of 2 important ways women save money on their divorce—only to hurt themselves later.
1. When they run into enforcement issues.
Lots of people draft their own agreements or go to mediators in an effort to save money. It’s really pretty common. What they don’t think about, though, is what happens AFTER their divorce.
Sure, it’s true that a separation agreement isn’t that difficult of a document to draft up. We say all the time in our Second Saturday seminars that it’s valid, as long as it’s signed, even if it’s written on a beverage napkin. Of course, that’s not exactly a recipe for a successful divorce.
There’s a difference between an agreement that will let you get divorced and one that will protect you AFTER divorce.
Mediators and do it yourselfers can write agreements. But, with very, very few exceptions, they don’t have to defend those agreements later. When they’re drafting them, they aren’t thinking about how that agreement will protect you later on if things go wrong. They aren’t thinking about problems that you could run into or how a provision might be interpreted by a judge. Because they have no experience in dealing with those sort of things, their only priority is getting an agreement in place so that you can get divorced.
Attorneys, on the other hand, are looking to produce concrete, ironclad agreements that protect you against any negative potential future possibility. They’ve had to litigate over vague or ambiguous agreements before, and they’re determined to make sure their agreements are specific and all-encompassing enough to protect their clients.
Have a difficult husband? One who often twists your words? One who might not follow the letter of the agreement later on—who might try to wiggle his way out of doing what he has agreed to do? One that, frankly, isn’t all that good at responsibility?
…Think you want to save money and use a mediator, knowing how your husband thinks, feels, and typically behaves? Or would you rather spend the extra and get an attorney, who will draft you an agreement with such a future possibility in mind? Of course, it’s up to you.
2. When their custody and visitation agreement doesn’t expand as the children grow.
Custody and visitation is one of those areas that almost always needs to be revisited later. You can imagine why. Kids are constantly growing and changing, so what is in their best interest is something that is constantly changing and evolving along with them. Because of this, anything in a separation agreement that is related to child custody, child support, and visitation is always modifiable based on a material change of circumstances.
Still, a good attorney will draft an agreement that grows with the child, so that, as much as possible, you can avoid returning to court.
A mediator or a do it yourselfer, on the other hand, is so focused on solving the issues immediately in front of them that they rarely put as much thought as is truly necessary into making the agreement as strong as possible. It’s a mistake that could, potentially, cost thousands of extra dollars in legal fees (not to mention the emotional strain on both the parents and the children while the situation is handled and re-handled in the courts).
It’s not always necessary to hire an attorney, of course, but having someone on your side can often save you money in the long run, by helping to ensure that you get your fair share (and, sometimes maybe even a little bit more) in the divorce itself, and also by helping you to avoid incurring additional legal costs in the future enforcing and revising your agreement.
Are all attorneys created equal, then?
No, of course not! Not all attorneys are the same. In fact, far from it!
If you’re considering hiring an attorney, but you’re not quite sure where to start, request a copy of our free book, “The Woman’s Guide to Selecting an Outstanding Divorce and Custody Lawyer.” It’ll help give you criteria for comparing lawyers, so you can tell the good from the bad, and even give you questions to ask your attorney in an initial consultation. At the end of the book, there’s even a scoresheet you can use to take to your initial consultations so that you can compare lawyers at a glance.
I want a good lawyer, but I also don’t want to spend a fortune. Where should I start?
I get it. It’s a sliding scale. You want to be somewhere in the middle. You want an excellent attorney, but one who won’t break the bank all at the same time.
Most attorney’s hourly rates are calculated based on their years of expertise. A great way to save money, though, is by working with one of the firm’s younger attorneys, especially if the firm only handles family law cases.
In a firm where only one type of law is practiced, even young associates get a lot of practice really, really fast. Compare that to a firm where the attorneys handle personal injury, family law, and bankruptcy, for example (yes, there are TONS of firms like this!). Associates would take years to build up the type of family law experience that a family law only attorney would get in just six months.
If you want to save money, go for the good firm with the young-ish associate.
If you still want more, or you’re ready to take the next step, consider attending one of our divorce seminars. We teach them on the second Saturday of each month in both Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach. It’s a great way to get information directly from one of our divorce attorneys—because each seminar is taught by one! You can ask your questions and get the information you need to decide what to do next.
For more information, visit our site by clicking here.
If you’re ready to talk to an attorney one-on-one, we can help you with that, too! To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 785-9761.