- July, 2021
Five tips to reduce legal costs of your divorce
By Donna Yamazaki
Divorce is a stressful and sometimes expensive ordeal. The more complex and contentious the uncoupling, the higher the legal expenses.
It is important to seek independent legal advice when you are going through a separation or divorce. Only a family law lawyer can ensure that your agreement is in your best interests and that you are not waiving your legal entitlements. Having a lawyer to advise and guide you through the process is a sensible investment, especially for those who want to resolve their issues as efficiently as possible.
There are steps you can take to maximize your legal services investment and keep your costs under control. In this column, I will highlight five tips to help you reduce the expenses associated with your separation or divorce.
1. Avoid court, if possible
Going to court is, by far, the most expensive way to settle your divorce. It follows, therefore, that the best way to reduce your legal costs is by avoiding a trial wherever possible. Most family law trials are five-days for straightforward matters involving support and property division, and 10 days for complex property division or where the issues involve parenting matters. As couples navigate the process, it will be helpful to keep an open mind and remain focused on the big picture.
At Hamilton Fabbro, our family law lawyers are settlement focused. Where possible, we advocate for a non-adversarial approach to resolving the conflicts associated with ending a relationship. Couples interested in this path can choose to settle their divorce through collaborative family practice, mediation, four-way negotiation among the parties and their counsel or arbitration.
There are circumstances, however, when court intervention is necessary to place issues before the court for a determination. In those cases, I am fully prepared to take my client’s case to court and advocate on their behalf.
2. Be strategic about choosing your lawyer
When clients shop for a family law lawyer, there are several key questions they should ask before signing a retainer agreement:
• What is your hourly rate?
• Do you practice exclusively in family law?
• What is your experience handling matters similar to mine?
• Are you settlement-minded?
• Have you taken any collaborative or mediation courses as part of your training?
It is also worth asking the lawyer about their experience working with opposing counsel, if the other party has hired a lawyer. Separating couples benefit from family lawyers who have a history of working well together to resolve cases.
Clients should also inquire as to whether the lawyer has additional staff, such as junior lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants, who will work on some aspects of the file at a lower hourly rate.
I always tell my clients that settling their divorce is not a contest with winners and losers. It is about reaching an agreement with which both parties can live and one that enables them to transition to the next phase of their lives. As you go through the negotiation process, it is important to be clear on what your deal breakers are versus where you can concede.
3. Efficient communication with your lawyer
Every time you send an email to your lawyer or call them, it adds to the charges on your file. For non-urgent questions, I often advise clients to bundle their emails; jot down all your questions as they come up, then send all of them in one e-mail or save them for discussion in a conference call. Of course, that strategy does not apply to urgent matters that warrant your lawyer’s immediate attention, but it is a good plan for queries that do not require an instant response.
Another way clients can reduce their legal expenses is by promptly responding to their lawyer’s requests for information.
Something on which I often coach clients is the importance of transparency in their family law matter. Full and frank disclosure is imperative on your end. To be an effective advocate, I need the complete picture of your situation.
4. Do your homework
There is a great deal of paperwork associated with ending a marriage or relationship, and much of it is supplied by the parties themselves. For example, it is my practice to send a client information form prior to meeting with a client for the initial consultation. This provides a brief background of your situation as well as relevant information for a productive and efficient meeting. It will enable a more focused discussion on the important issues in your case.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Nothing feels small in a divorce; it is a huge life transition for your family, and it is easy to get caught up in emotion. If you can rise above it and approach your divorce with a strategic mindset, you will settle it much faster.
Often, we see former couples engaging in a battle over household items, such as the sofa or the Vitamix, not realizing those actions prolong their proceedings. Rather than focusing on the small wins that might make your day, look at your long-term goals and what is really important to you. It is a waste of your time and resources to argue over the home contents if the price of disputing is more than the resale value of the items themselves.
For parenting issues, I encourage my clients to consider not only what parenting looks like right now, but also to think long term and how they want to model conflict resolution for their children. As children grow into adults, they will appreciate that their parents sheltered them from parental conflict and avoided putting them in the middle of it. This models healthy conflict resolution and lets them focus on enjoying their childhood and teenage years.
If you are facing a separation or divorce and would like to discuss your options, I would love to hear from you.