I wish I could tell you that divorce is cheap. Understandably, people want it to be. They want out of a marriage that has become emotionally painful, and they want out fast and cheap. But you should be wary of any attorney promising a cheap divorce, because as with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Rather than thinking in terms of cheap, think in terms of smart.
It’s best to start with perspective. Think about that year before you got married. You and your fiancé planned extensively. You tried on different dresses and tuxedos, you tasted different cakes, you priced out different florists, and visited different venues. Ultimately, you likely spent a lot of money for one, beautiful day. All well worth it. Now fast forward 10, 20, or even 30 years. You have beautiful children together. You have assets – retirement accounts, investment portfolios, cars, maybe a second home, or even a small business that you started during your marriage. The bottom line is that your life is not simple. It became more complex the day after that beautiful wedding. And dividing that complexity so that you both can benefit the most from it as you transition into your post-divorce life is worthy of more than a “cheap” divorce.
So, how can you be smart about the cost of your divorce? It starts with control. Many people still go the more traditional route of a litigated divorce because they don’t know any other way. Those people will likely settle before it’s all said and done, but they still have to use the traditional legal system to get there. That often includes multiple courtroom hearings, formal information exchange with what is called written “discovery,” each side hiring their own legal experts, depositions, and maybe even a long mediation. With each of these events in the traditional legal process, you, the client, have little or no control over when and how these things happen. Court dockets and statutory deadlines determine the speed and length of your process. And if you can’t control the process, you can’t control the cost.
Compare that to a Collaborative Divorce. (Read more here about the how a Collaborative Divorce works.) You, your spouse, and your attorneys acknowledge up front that most divorce cases settle, so you are going to work toward that end together. You, your spouse, and your attorneys acknowledge up front that you are not going to force one another or your friends and family to appear in court or at a deposition to testify. You acknowledge up front that you will jointly hire experts instead of spending twice as much for you each to hire your own. You agree on the front end to share all of your financial information without playing the legal game of written discovery requests. You agree from the outset to not put your children in the middle and consider different time-sharing arrangements that work best for all of you (remember, your children didn’t ask for this divorce). This is control over the process. It doesn’t take the emotion of divorce away, but it does allow both of you to prevent the emotion from taking over your pocket book. It allows both of you the opportunity to make smart decisions rather than emotional ones or decisions forced by artificial deadlines.
An attorney who tells you how much the legal fees will be in a divorce is likely making a guess and will tell you that it’s just a guess – because it is. There simply are too many outside factors with which you have no control that can impact the bottom line. So rather than focusing on a dollar figure that no one can accurately guess in advance, focus on how you and your spouse can control the divorce process, and ultimately, the cost.
To read Part 2 of this series on Being Smart About the Cost of Divorce, click here.
Rhonda Cleaves is a divorce attorney in Plano, Texas, with clients in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Tarrant and Rockwall Counties. The primary focus of her practice is on Collaborative Divorce cases.