No one likes to pay legal fees. Because divorce lawyers typically base their fees on the time it takes to do their work, more professional time directly translates into higher fees. Believe it or not, most lawyers and mediators try to work efficiently and do not wish to prolong their work beyond what’s necessary.
- Keep Conflict Down. While conflict is normal during divorce, it also invariably takes time to process. The more you can keep conflict down, and instead focus on the tasks at hand, the more efficient the process. It’s practically a law in divorce that the higher the conflict, the higher the legal fees will be. A longer process often means higher attorney’s fees, and the process is faster with less acrimony. Do what you can to keep the acrimony down, and you’ll have more resources left over for your children, or for other things in your life.
- Don’t Push Your Spouse’s Buttons. You’re probably an expert on pushing your spouse’s buttons. Doing so during mediation or Collaborative Divorce does not get you closer to agreement. Instead, it makes reaching agreement less likely. At best, pushing buttons makes the process less efficient and therefore costs you more. Instead, take the strategic (and less expensive) approach by refraining from pushing buttons both during and in-between sessions. What if your spouse pushes your buttons? Don’t respond in kind, and take a break if needed.
- Be Realistic. The financial resources available to work with probably consist of the assets you have accumulated and the income that will be received in the future. From those sources, two financially functional households will need to be established. If money was tight before the divorce, the same amount will feel tighter when used to pay for two households. Be realistic about that. Prepare to plan on how to maximize resources, and make what’s available work, instead of taking on the losing fight of keeping the inevitable away.
- Accept that Things Will Change. No matter the process, there are several “inconvenient truths” about divorce. First, divorce is ultimately unwelcome. No one gets married with the intention to divorce. Second, expect there to be two independent households when the divorce is completed. You will each be autonomous and need to make both households work with what you have—neither you nor your soon-to-be ex-spouse can print money. Third, divorce involves changes in life and lifestyle, and often in surprising ways. It can be difficult to let go but change is inevitable. By holding tightly onto what was instead of working towards what will be, you will likely not gain much if anything. However, you will prolong the inevitable and thereby incur higher professional fees.
- Know (or Learn) What You Need. Understand what you need for the next chapter of your life, so that can be considered as part of your negotiations. Do the work needed so you are clear about what’s next for you. Prioritize your needs so you can distinguish between what’s essential and what would be nice to have. Doing so will provide clarity about what agreement can work for you. If you don’t know your needs, that’s normal—most people don’t when they start the journey of divorce. Your mediator, Collaborative Divorce lawyer, financial specialist, and/or divorce coach are trained to help you.
- Make It Easy for Your Spouse to Agree. If you can also understand what your spouse needs, and can offer solutions that address those needs in addition to your own needs, then your spouse is much more likely to agree to those solutions. The easier it is for your spouse to say “yes” (without compromising on your priorities), the faster you’ll likely get to agreement.
- Avoid Long Delays. Try to make your divorce a priority, and try to limit taking breaks from the divorce process. Every time there is a break, momentum is lost and memories fade. As a result, it may be necessary to revisit what may have previously been covered and to relearn what was once understood. The result: higher costs and frustration. While some delays and breaks are inevitable, doing your best to just get it done is highly recommended.
- Prepare. Be sure to show up at meetings prepared, ready to go, and with an understanding of what’s expected from you. This is especially so for Collaborative Law, where joint sessions will include several professionals and the fees resulting from inefficiency are higher than they would be if there was just one professional. The more ready you are, the more efficient and effective the meeting will likely be. If you’re not sure what’s next or how to prepare, just ask.
- Do Homework on Time. Progress often depends on completing work on time. Not providing requested information within the time-frame to which you committed can snowball into inefficiencies when the professionals have planned their work schedules and meeting agendas around your commitment. It’s not always possible to get things done on time–if so, let the professionals know as soon as possible so that schedules can be changed if necessary.
- Provide the Documents and Information Requested. Your divorce lawyer, financial specialist, or divorce mediator, will have good reasons for asking for specific documents. If you try to substitute what you think is needed instead of supplying what was asked, there’s a good chance they’ll have to ask you again. Each time that takes professional time, and incurs you fees. Commonly, I get web page screen prints instead of requested statements. The statements provide much more information and are often what’s needed. Receiving all documents at once that are organized can take less time to review than receiving them piecemeal or in disarray. Clients sometimes resist providing a document so they can get an explanation for why I need it. That’s fine, and I’m happy to explain. However, be aware that my explanation often takes more time than it would take me to simply review the document. I review these documents all the time, and can efficiently locate just what I need or am checking for.
- Don’t Make Major Changes if You Can Help It. Sometimes clients make major changes during their divorce. The changes might include selling or buying real estate, remodeling, making investments, etc. Just be aware that every change will result in additional legal fees for your divorce, because your divorce lawyer (or mediator) will need to understand the impact of the change and address it.
- Mistakes Will Be Made. No one is at their best while getting a divorce. You will make some mistakes. Your spouse will make some mistakes. So will everyone else you’ll ever meet. Accepting that you and your spouse are each fallible humans who will make mistakes during the divorce can be helpful to remember. Most mistakes have little long-term impact. If a mistake is major, the task becomes focusing on how to move forward given the mistake rather than to assign blame.
- Beware the Greek Chorus. Odds are good that some well-meaning people will try to “help” you during your divorce by giving you advice. Most everyone has a divorce story. Remember that those not directly involved are unlikely to know enough about your divorce to be able to give good advice. Doubts created by considering well-meaning but poor advice can add delay and increase the fees of your divorce lawyer.
While there are no doubt other ways to keep attorney’s fees down, if you can follow the tips above, you will have done a lot.