5 Tips to get an Affordable Divorce without Breaking the Bank on Your Attorney!
Divorce in California is notoriously expensive. In addition to the fact that spouses are literally dividing all of their assets in half, divorce attorneys bill by the hour and can end up racking up quite the bill by the end of the process.
How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost?
The cost of a divorce attorney depends on a whole list of factors, including, the number of issues to be resolved in the case, complexity of the issues in the case, the region the spouses live in (a Los Angeles divorce attorney will likely cost more than a Stanislaus divorce attorney), the willingness of the parties to come to agreements on issues, the amount of cooperation of the client, and countless other factors.
Many times, the circumstances involved in the divorce necessitate a higher litigation budget. A divorce with a business involved, a child custody dispute, and numerous other circumstances can drive up the cost of litigation.
However, for the majority of divorcing spouses, the cost of a divorce attorney does not have to break the bank.
Here are 5 tips and tricks to effectively utilize your divorce attorney so that your divorce can be more affordable.
#1 – Be Organized
There is no way to get divorced in California without complying with the disclosure requirements of Family Code 2104. Section 2104 requires both parties to serve on one another their preliminary declaration of disclosure documents within 60 days of filing a petition.
The disclosures must state with sufficient particularity, that a person of reasonable and ordinary intelligence can ascertain, all of the following:
The identity of all assets in which the declarant has or may have an interest and all liabilities for which the declarant is or may be liable, regardless of the characterization of the asset or liability as community, quasi-community, or separate… [and] The declarant’s percentage of ownership in each asset and percentage of obligation for each liability when property is not solely owned by one or both of the parties. The preliminary declaration may also set forth the declarant’s characterization of each asset or liability.
Along with the preliminary declaration of disclosure, both parties also have to serve a completed Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150), and a copy of each party’s two most recent tax returns.
Any good family law attorney also serves documentation to back up the assertions made in the disclosure document. This backup documentation consists of bank and credit card statements, title documents, and any other proof of the existence or value of community or separate property. Dividing community property requires a firm understanding of the extent of that property.
Compiling all of these tax documents, bank statements, credit card statements, title documents, mortgage statements, etc. can take time.
Instead of waiting until your lawyer asks you for the documents, have them all ready to go. Better yet, have them all organized in your Google Drive (or wherever you store documents), so that your attorney does not have to spend a lot of time going through a big box of documents, making copies and scans, trying to figure out your finances.
It may take you 2 minutes to scan a particular document and email it to your attorney. It may take your attorney 10 minutes to go through your pile of documents, find the correct document, and copy and scan it. You are being billed for that time. Anytime you can do something rather than having your attorney do it, you are saving money.
#2 – Get Counseling
Attorneys are counselors, but they are not that kind of counselor.
Divorce is inherently emotional and stressful, and is likely one of the hardest things a person can go through. You absolutely need to vent and talk about your worries, anger, concerns, sadness, etc. A therapist or counselor can actually help you with these thoughts and emotions, and they are much more reasonably priced than your attorney.
Attorneys provide legal advice, not relationship advice, parenting advice, psychological advice, or dating advice.
When you call your attorney to rant about something your soon-to-be-ex-spouse said or did, first consider whether this is a legal issue or not. If it is not a legal issue, your attorney is not the right person to be calling and you are wasting your money.
#3 – Follow Your Attorney’s Legal Advice
You were married for 3 years, but in a relationship with your spouse for 13 years. Your attorney tells you about the legal presumption that you should only receive spousal support for half the length of the marriage, and advises you that you should accept a settlement proposal with a termination date for spousal support in 2 years. You blanch at the suggestion that your 13 year long relationship doesn’t mean anything and feel like your attorney is not even on your side. You feel entitled to receive spousal support as though this were a long-term marriage because you were together for 13 years!
Why did you hire an attorney if you don’t want their legal advice? If your attorney is advising you on a legal issue and you choose not to take their advice, you are likely setting yourself up to spend a whole lot more money on your divorce.
You probably spent a lot of time choosing just the right attorney, so it makes sense to listen to what he or she has to say about your case. That might sound simple, but many people don’t abide by this advice.
If you have questions or don’t understand some of the legal terms your lawyer uses, just ask for clarification as needed. It’s better that you take a little more time and truly understand your case than waste everyone’s time by pretending you do.
When I advise my client not to litigate a particular issue, it is almost always because the law or the facts are not on their side and I do not believe they have a high probability of succeeding on the issue in court. This does not only cost more money, it can slow down your case, making your divorce last longer than necessary.
Litigating a losing argument is just throwing good money after bad.
#4 – Pick Your Battles
Everyone has a litigation budget, to a greater or lesser degree. Understanding that your budget is not infinite and artfully choosing which issues to put time and effort towards are key to successfully completing a divorce within that budget.
If you have $3,000 to spend on a divorce attorney, but you want to litigate the date of separation, improper court venue, breach of fiduciary duties, relocate with the minor child, and divide a community business; you need a “come to Jesus” meeting with your attorney about your unrealistic litigation expectations.
Divorce inherently means you will have less than you did during the marriage. Expecting to have all of the marital assets, no debt, and a minimal bill from your attorney is probably totally unrealistic.
Going through each of the issues in your divorce and deciding which ones are worth the time, energy, and expense of litigation is the best way to utilize your resources and save money on your divorce attorney.
Even if you hire the best divorce lawyer you can find, there is no guarantee you will get the ending you want. Most divorces require some give and take, which means you probably won’t get the house, all the cars, and full custody of the children just because you want it. And no lawyer can legitimately promise you this.
What your lawyer can do is work hard to ensure you understand your case and create a strategy that will give you a chance at getting at least some of your requests fulfilled. This comes down to listening to your lawyer. Stop listening to friends or family tell you what will happen because they do not have the knowledge or experience that your attorney has. It is sometimes difficult to hear what you need to hear from your lawyer, rather than what you want to hear.
If you and your spouse can reach agreements on certain issues, like a child custody agreement or pet custody agreement, leaving limited issues to be litigated, it can save you a lot of money. The right attorney may even be able to resolve the entire divorce with a marital settlement agreement.
#5 – Provide Your Lawyer with the Facts
Your lawyer is full of important information that can affect your case, but so are you. You’re the only person who knows where certain important documents are and how to reach any witnesses for your case. Your lawyer needs your help understanding your case, so offer all the facts upfront.
Don’t make your attorney wait until 6 months into your divorce to find out you signed an interspousal transfer deed for the marital residence 10 years ago.
If you leave out relevant details, your case will only take longer to get through, costing you more money along the way. And keep in mind that the facts don’t include insults to describe your former spouse. Your lawyer doesn’t want or need to hear about how mean your ex is. This won’t help your case and will waste your time. Save those rants for your friends or therapist, and stick to the facts when you talk to your lawyer.
#6 – Find the Right Attorney for You
One size does not fit all! You don’t get along with every single person on the planet, so it’s no surprise that you probably won’t feel comfortable with every divorce attorney you meet.
Every attorney has a different style and personality. It’s important to meet with a few attorneys (this can be done over the phone or by zoom), and talk with them about your case to make sure you feel comfortable with the attorney you ultimately choose to represent you.
Making sure the attorneys you meet with have a clean disciplinary record is the first step. While online reviews do not always provide a complete picture of an attorney’s reputation, they can be helpful for potential clients and provide insight into other people’s experiences with that attorney.
Navigating the legal process can be complicated and daunting without the right family law attorney. If you have questions regarding the topic discussed in this article, it is advisable to contact a California divorce lawyer for a free consultation to find out what your options are.