In a divorce, the states of mind of the spouses can often be the most significant dimension of the entire case. If one or both persons want to make war on the other, efficiency in the case – the chance that it may move easily to a conclusion – comes to be at risk. While the attorney can put forth a heroic struggle to maintain control, the effort usually buckles under the client’s hostility. From this comes two certainties: one, the action is going to take longer to conclude; two, attorney’s fees are going to skyrocket, because more attorney time will be necessary. Divorcing spouses must be smart to not go broke. They must get smart, and not get mad.
Battling over the fourth set of dishes that have been in a self-store locker for five years makes no sense, but paying an attorney $400 a hour to do it is just plain stupid. A divorce is a business transaction, and a client should look for the best and reasonable economic result. It makes no sense to pay a lawyer $1000 for something worth $100, but battling spouses do it, particularly when they are fighting for an object of symbolic value.
Divorce lawyers have a number of sayings that touch on the key to a successful settlement, which is compromise:
- “A fair settlement is one neither party is happy but both can live with the agreement”
- “No one wins. It’s more a question of how well the mutual loss in controlled.”
- “How much money can I stop my lawyer from making?”
Regardless of the jurisdiction, the pursuit of equity drives the court system in granting divorces. In other words, the court is going to try for fairness. Thus, the middle of the road approach. This means being flexible, creative, and compromising. Work toward settlement, rather than entrenchment.
The more civil the conduct between the spouses, the more likely the matter can be resolved quickly, and the less time the lawyer spends on the case, the smaller the lawyer’s bill.
Litigating a divorce – going to trial – should be a course of last resort for a number of reasons including the fact that court appearances, hearings, and trials all take time, and time is money. It’s not uncommon to pay a lawyer for hours of sitting and waiting, to speak to the judge for ten minutes.
There are alternatives to litigation. Divorce mediation is a very effective procedure for realizing a settlement. The parties meet with a neutral attorney who renders advice, gives guidance, facilitates a settlement, and processes the paperwork with the court. Another alternative is collaborative divorce, a process whereby the spouses and their lawyers contract to keep the case out of court. Both mediation and collaboration are less expensive than going to court.
Couples who can settle the terms and conditions of a divorce can bypass the lawyers by filing pro se. In this regime, the couples decide the terms and conditions of their divorce, and then one of them files the paperwork in an uncontested action. Self-help legal guidebooks can provide more than enough information for many people to do their own divorce. And paralegals are a viable, affordable option for those people who do not want to, or cannot prepare their own legal papers. Just remember, it is against the law for anyone other than a licensed lawyer to give legal advice.
With foresight, organization, effort, and practicality it is possible to reduce the legal costs associated with divorce.