Everything in California is more expensive. Gas, rent, a pedicure, and yes even a divorce.
But here’s a secret that most divorce lawyers do not want to tell you, divorce DOES NOT have to cost a fortune. And you don’t have to settle for a mediocre, cheap attorney in order for your divorce to be cost-effective.
So how do you keep your divorce costs down?
Below are 5 tips I give my clients to help them save money on their divorce.
Want a sure way to hike up the cost of your divorce? Fight about everything in court.
Want a sure way to reduce the cost of your divorce? Mediate.
I could write an entire article on the advantages of mediation. Mediation allows couples to settle their divorce out of court, keep personal matters out of the public record, and save a significant amount of time and money. It also tends to be much less stressful.
In mediation, the parties hire a mediator who represents neither party, but helps to negotiate the terms of the divorce outside of court for the benefit of both individuals. You can mediate every aspect of your divorce, from child custody to property division. You can also pursue mediation even if one or both of you already has an attorney.
Sometimes, one or both parties have unreasonable expectations that need to be resolved in court. Even if you are not able to resolve everything in divorce mediation, mediation can help you resolve some of your issues, which then allows you to focus on (and not waste as much time and money on) the unresolved issues in court. A judge will then make a decision on those unresolved issues.
When selecting a mediator, I recommend that an individual look for either a family law attorney or a family law specialist. The nice thing about hiring a family law attorney is that they know the ins and outs of divorce law, so they will be able to ensure that your agreement is legally sound. They will also think of the things that a judge will consider. This way, if part of your case ends up going to court, you will be prepared.
Time is money, and the more time you save your attorney asking you for paperwork and information, the more money you will save.
I recommend that my clients put together a divorce binder, full of relevant paperwork and information.
- A list of your current assets + debts
- A recent copy of statements for each bank account you have
- Escrow paperwork for the house and any refi’s
- You & your spouse’s 401k/retirement balances
- A copy of each party’s year end pay stubs for the last tax year
- A copy of your last two years of tax returns
- A quick video walkthrough of the house and its contents (upload to a thumb drive and the cloud)
A client armed with all of that vital information in one organized place is not only going to save a lot of money, but also expedite the divorce process.
If you have an administrative question, first ask the paralegal who is assigned to your case. Paralegals and legal assistants bill at a much lower rate than attorneys (sometimes free), and can help to answer a good number of your questions.
Some attorneys attempt to be their own secretary, paralegal and operations manager all while managing your case. Why is this problematic? Because you don’t want to be paying an attorney’s hourly rate for office work and simple process questions. Make sure that your divorce attorney has an adequate support staff in place in order to effectively take on your case.
Expenses add up very quickly during the divorce process. Before you hire an attorney, obtain a written fee agreement. This agreement should outline how much you will be charged for the time of the legal assistants, paralegals, and your attorney.
It is also important to make sure that the costs (messenger fees, court copies, subpoenaed records) are not marked up. Depending on your jurisdiction, there should be no profit to the law firm for costs unrelated to hourly billing.
Many attorneys will not charge you for billing questions that you want to ask. Check with your potential divorce attorney if this is the case and after you hire them, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification regarding your monthly invoice.
That couch that is five years old and is only worth a couple hundred dollars? You could spend thousands of dollars fighting over it, or you could put that money towards buying new furniture.
To be clear, you should not give away everything to your ex in order to avoid conflict. You should, however, be strategic about what you want to fight for.
You will likely have a lot of household items to split. If possible, divide out your stuff on your own. You don’t want to pay an attorney to help decide who gets the dishes or the rug (unless it’s a very expensive one). Dividing assets is a cost-benefit analysis. Is what you want cost-effective to obtain? Share a list of your priorities with your divorce attorney, and be willing to let some things go.
Divorce does not have to cost a fortune. Keep your eye on the ball and remember your end goal. If you are strategic, you can keep the cost of your divorce down.