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Why is Divorce So Expensive? Hints to Help Reduce Costs!

divorce

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
Q:           Why is divorce so expensive?
A:            Because it’s worth it!
All kidding aside, divorces can be costly.  There are so many variables involved in the divorce process that  it is nearly impossible for an attorney to give you a realistic estimate of what any individual’s divorce will cost at the inception of the case.  However (yes, one of my favorite words),  there are many ways that you, the client, can help contain, or at least reduce some of the fees your lawyer will charge.  So here we go (but don’t tell your attorney I told you):
1)      STOP FIGHTING!  Is this obvious?  Apparently not from the divorces I’ve handled over the years.  You see, the more you fight, the more your spouse calls his or her lawyer to “counter” your attack, and the more time is spent over matters that often, at the end of the day, make no real impact on the divorce when you are in court.  Taking or destroying the other’s personal property? Really, is this a divorce or kindergarten?  Remember: don’t take what is not yours.  Will it make the other spouse crazy?  Yes, most likely, but it will also drive up fees on both sides because your spouse will call his/her lawyer, who will call your lawyer…maybe motions and court hearings will follow…all while driving up your bill and leaving less for you to get at the end.

2)      I’VE GOT A BBA, an MBA and a JD, BUT I DON’T HAVE A PhD:   That’s right; your lawyer is not your psychologist…so stop using us in that capacity.  Now, I do know a few lawyers who have Masters Degrees in psychology, and even one or two who do hold a PhD (and apparently just enjoyed college way too much).  Now, after all these years of practicing family law, I probably could qualify for the honorary degree of “Armchair Psychologist” but my malpractice carrier does not cover this.  Going through a divorce is tough, and I truly believe that even the most well adjusted person could benefit with some therapy leading up to, during and after a divorce.  But if you continue to use your lawyer for that role, not only will you not get qualified counseling, but it is likely to cost you more than seeing a licensed mental health therapist.

3)      WHERE’S THE MONEY?  That’s one of the first questions an attorney will ask after questions about children.  Beyond children’s issues, much of the divorce process is sorting out the parties’ finances to determine what all of the assets are, their values and how to divide them, determining parties’ income, whether alimony is an issue and if so, how much.  So when someone comes in and has no idea whatsoever about the family finances, the lawyer has to do much more work, and work equals time equals fees.   If you are contemplating divorce, get an idea of what’s in the marital pot before you go and see an attorney.  Check bank statements, look at credit card bills, review the tax returns before you sign them, or ask where the returns are, and (novel) ask your spouse about your finances.  You may not find out everything, but every little piece of information you provide is less your attorney has to find.

4)      THE JUDGE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND:  I wish I kept a count how many clients (or spouses of clients), upon not immediately getting everything they think they are entitled to (note: “entitled”) because the other spouse won’t just cave in, retort with, “Well, we will just go to court and let the judge decide!”  Spoiler alert: someone ain’t gonna (I learned that expression at a Southern law school) be too happy when the judge rules on your case.  Frequently, both parties ain’t too happy.  You see, the judge is not there to be your friend. (S)he is not there to be your spouse’s friend.  The judge is there to listen to testimony, review evidence (and that means you can’t always introduce everything to the court you’d like the judge to see or hear), listen to arguments based on the law, and, at the end, decide who is lying( You mean the judge can tell? Well, they get to make that call) and apply the law to the facts as they are perceived by the Court and rule on your case.  You see, WE DO NOT HAVE JURY TRIALS IN FLORIDA DIVORCES.  So one person decides your fate in Court.  All the theatrics that you watch on television that the lawyer uses to win over the jury falls on deaf years on an experienced family law judge who, most likely, has heard it all before.     Of course, if you don’t like the judge’s decision, you can always try to appeal the ruling.  But appeals are very tricky. Moreover,  if you decide to appeal, the attorney meter keeps ticking through the appellate process. As such, an appeal may, in the end, not even be worth the time and  money.
On the other hand, settling a case, through mediation or other means, allows the parties chart their future destiny, to come up with creative solutions that the court would not be able to (the judge is bound by the law…), and let each person have a say his/her destiny.  Now granted, both parties can’t get everything they want, but you both will know where you stand, and can then start to move forward towards the future and stop the attorneys fees!
Of course, you can spend a lot of time on various motions that take up court time and cost you lots of money even before the trial.  To avoid this see hint #1 above.
5)      YOU’VE FOUND /GOT THE MONEY, NOW WHAT?    So you’ve provided much of the financial information to your attorney, and your attorney, through the divorce process has found the rest of the assets and liabilities.  Now, how do you equitably divide these up.  For the most part, the Courts start with equal division between spouses. There are instances where this does not occur, but that is too lengthy a treatise for here. But what’s 50/50?  Some assets need to be professionally valued.  Unless you’re a property appraiser, do you really know the value of your home, or that commercial building your spouse owns?  What is the value of your spouse’s business?  Is the value all personal goodwill or  enterprise goodwill? (First, you have to know what that even means) What could your spouse make if he/she actually returned to the workforce?  What are the tax ramifications of the settlement? Well, your lawyer is not likely to be a real estate appraiser, business valuator, forensic accountant or vocational evaluator.  But you may need one or more of these experts in your case.  Listen to your attorney if she tells you such experts are needed.  There is a reason. Although there are costs involved in hiring experts, do you want to pay your lawyer to be your forensic expert (because we can only argue, not testify, not to mention that most of us are not qualified)?  Hint: the answer is no!  Not all cases need experts, but the proper expert can save you money and perhaps help you  get a better settlement, in the long run.

If  you follow these tips, and if your spouse follows them as well, your divorce process will go a lot smoother, a lot quicker and cost a lot less money!

Cindy Vova

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