Divorce can be costly—both financially and emotionally. Attorneys typically bill by the hour for their legal advice and representation. When they work on your case, receive an email from you, meet with you in person, or speak to you on the phone, they bill you for their time. While your attorney should be mindful of your budget and do everything in their power to keep your total bill low, you must account for the attorney’s time, experience, and skillset. Please note: there are circumstances outside of your control that affect your legal bills. For instance, if your spouse fights you tooth and nail over every small detail, your attorney will have to bill you for their time responding to each small issue your spouse brings up. As you move through your separation and divorce case alongside your chosen attorney, consider heeding the tips below to keep your bills down.
1. Be reasonable.
Have realistic expectations regarding the outcome of your divorce, especially regarding your financial settlement and child custody arrangement. In North and South Carolina, you are generally entitled to 50% of the total marital estate and it is unrealistic (and costly) to go into negotiations requesting a great majority of the overall marital estate. You may waste money asking your attorney to fight for more than your fair share only to end up dividing all assets and debts equally, according to state law. Listen to your attorney when he or she tells you what portion of the marital estate you are entitled to receive. While you and your spouse may agree to whatever distribution of the marital estate you want to, even an unequal one, your attorney will always advise you what state law entitles each spouse to receive.
Additionally, understand that as long as there are no extenuating circumstances, a child’s time will be shared in some capacity between the parents. Even if you are upset with your spouse for their role in the demise of your marriage, they are still your child’s parent and are entitled to parenting time. Try to keep what is truly best for your child in the forefront of your mind during custody negotiations.
2. Do your homework.
If your attorney asks for you to complete some “homework” like providing a list of financial statements and account information, provide the list electronically in its entirety. Do not send your attorney each document piecemeal. Use a naming convention for your statements like identifying the year, month, and day of each statement then the name of the account. If you want bonus points (and to save even more money), provide a coversheet to your attorney with a list of statements provided, the date of each statement, and the statement balance. Providing your documents in an organized fashion saves your attorney a ton of time and saves you money! Much of divorce is separating and distributing assets and debts, and any time savings you can provide your attorney will save you legal fees.
3. Be open to compromise and choose your battles.
The more you fight your spouse, the more your divorce will cost. Litigation raises the cost of your divorce. You can choose an alternative divorce process like proceeding with traditional negotiations between attorneys, mediation, or collaborative divorce, you will save money on your legal fees. At our firm, we assist our clients in engaging in alternative dispute resolution processes outside of the courtroom. We believe that avoiding the courtroom is better for families and produces better results, but it also saves you money in the long-run. Know and set your goals for your divorce with your attorney at the outset of your case to help you focus on the final outcome and not on each small disagreement and detail.
4. Be wise about which attorney you hire.
Attorneys have various hourly rates and billing practices. Read your attorney-client engagement agreement carefully so you understand your attorney’s hourly rate and billing practices. Hire an attorney you can afford, who is open to highlighting where you can compromise with your spouse to save money while still achieving your most important goals.
5. Streamline your communications.
Be thorough and prompt in communications with your attorney. Fully answer each and every question from your attorney in one response email—don’t send several emails answering one question in each email. Your feedback is important to your attorney, and sometimes time sensitive. If your attorney does not hear from you, they will have to follow up with you. Each and every time they follow up with you, they will bill you for that attempt to contact you. To streamline your communications, know when to call your attorney vs. when to email. If you anticipate having several follow up questions, a call might be best. Reserve a time on your attorney’s calendar by reaching out to their paralegal or legal assistant. Don’t call your attorney’s office every time you have a small question. Instead, make a list of your questions and set up a time to call or meet with your attorney to talk through all of your questions in one fell swoop.
6. Don’t treat your attorney like a therapist.
Divorce has three major facets: legal, financial, and emotional. Only use your attorney to analyze the legal and financial aspects of divorce, not the emotional aspect. Venting frequently to your attorney about what a horrible person your spouse is may be emotionally cathartic, but it is better to discuss those things with your therapist. If you don’t have an individual therapist, ask your attorney for referrals. Attorneys regularly work with therapists who specialize in walking people through the emotional side of divorce and can recommend excellent local practitioners.
If you utilize these tips, barring unforeseen circumstances, you will save money in attorney fees. Reach out today to schedule a consultation if you need help moving forward with your separation and divorce.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC