By Laurie Itkin
We’ve all heard similar stories. You are going through a divorce and your friend tells you about her neighbor who spent over $100,000 in legal fees on her divorce. You shake your head thinking that is ludicrous and impossible. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t.
As a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), I have worked with scores of women who have hired divorce attorneys. Depending on how they used the attorney, their legal fees ranged from under $1,000 to over $250,000.
Getting a divorce is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be ridiculously so. In order to reduce the amount of legal fees you are charged, ask yourself these two questions:
Can I use an attorney in a limited-scope capacity by accomplishing some tasks with other professionals?
What is my return on investment if I engage a lawyer to fight on a particular issue?
Here are seven specific ways to reduce your legal fees in divorce:
1. Get Low-Cost Education in a Group Environment
The most important service a woman needs when going through divorce is access to information and education. If you live in a city or town where the Second Saturday Workshop is offered, take advantage of it. A few times a year I volunteer to speak on the financial aspects of divorce at one of the San Diego locations. Most locations charge $45 and you get three to four hours of valuable information from a family law attorney, financial expert, and therapist. Three aspects of divorce are addressed: legal, financial, and emotional.
If Second Saturday is not offered in your area, search online for low-cost or free workshops sponsored by collaborative divorce or mediation groups. Some divorce professionals provide online courses you might find helpful if no workshops are offered in your area. These include: Divorce Master Class, Divorce Road Map, and Divorce U.
2. Consider Cost-Effective Ways to Use an Attorney
Many people assume when they hire a lawyer he or she will do everything from A to Z. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Litigation is not the only model for divorce. If you choose to divorce through mediation instead of litigation, you have the option of using an attorney in a consulting capacity. For example, Shawn Skillin is an attorney in San Diego who I have worked with on several cases. Her website lists services that include limited-scope consulting. Terri Breer is another colleague of mine who provides “unbundled” legal services in Orange County.
3. Hire a CDFA When Gathering and Organizing Financial Documents
In order to help you negotiate a financial settlement, your attorney will need accurate information regarding your (and your spouse’s) assets, debts, income, and expenses. Unfortunately, gathering the appropriate information to create a financial snapshot of your marital estate can be difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming if you are not familiar with the process. You cannot afford to make mistakes here. I have witnessed pensions being grossly undervalued, spouses incorrectly calculating separate property claims, and income and deductions being omitted that impact child support and alimony calculations.
Instead of paying your attorney to work with you to gather this critical information you can hire a CDFA to guide you. The hourly rate of a CDFA is often 30 to 50 percent lower than an attorney’s hourly rate.
4. Use a CDFA to Help Assess and Evaluate Financial Settlement Options
The real cost of divorce can come from not understanding the financial and tax consequences of a settlement. Unless you are experienced in dealing with budgets and complex financial issues, a divorce financial expert can help you immensely. By working with a CDFA, you can have a clearer view of your financial future. Only then can you approach a legal settlement that fully addresses your current and future financial needs. A CDFA can work collaboratively with your attorney by conducting financial analysis that becomes the foundation of any settlement proposal.
If you want to work with a mediator to facilitate negotiations between you and your spouse, ask if the mediator will also draft and file the documents necessary to complete your divorce. Some mediators, such as LeaveStrong, offer this service at a flat rate. A consulting attorney can advise you of your legal rights during the mediation process and a CDFA can help you propose or evaluate settlement options that address property division, child support, and alimony.
Although most CDFA’s charge by the hour, some of us also offer flat-fee pricing. Although it might seem like hiring three professionals would be more expensive than hiring one attorney, in the vast majority of cases it will end up being less expensive as you will have the ability to control costs.
5. Discuss Anger, Fear, and Other Emotions with a Therapist
Your attorney is not a therapist. Do not rack up billable hours discussing issues with your attorney that do not relate to legal rights, procedures, or strategy. You are better off meeting with a licensed therapist.
6. Perform a Cost-Benefit Analysis as Issues Arise
If it is going to cost several thousand dollars for your attorney to draft a motion, ask yourself if that particular issue is worth the cost to fight over it. For example, are you going to spend $2,000 in legal fees to resolve a $1,000 issue?
7. Litigate Only as a Last Resort
The less litigious a divorce, the less costly it will be. Court appearances, hearings, and trials all take time and money. It’s not uncommon to have to pay a lawyer for hours of just sitting and waiting in the courtroom.
By following some of these tips you can reduce how much you spend on legal fees and keep more of your money to support yourself — and your family — in the future.
About the Author
Laurie Itkin is a financial advisor, certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), and the author of the Amazon bestseller, Every Woman Should Know Her Options. For less than the cost of a one-hour meeting with an attorney, her online course, Woman’s Guide to Financial Independence After Divorce, teaches separated and divorced women essential financial concepts. You can request a free consultation or subscribe to Laurie’s newsletter by visiting TheOptionsLady.com.