Going through a family law case is agonizing emotionally, taxing financially, complicated, confusing, and expensive, regardless of whether you and your spouse are getting along or at each other's throats, whether you have an attorney (or attorneys) or not, how much education you have, or how much money or how many children you have. It also can be difficult to get accurate and clear information, as it seems everyone has their own agenda in offering you their opinion. Your friends give you advice based on their experience, and each family law case is so different that it can be difficult if not dangerous to generalize. Attorneys give you information designed to convince you that you need their services (and to pay them lots of money). The media gives you information about celebrities with endless amounts of money. The internet gives you so much information that it's impossible to determine what's accurate.
This guide is designed to offer you tips and tricks to save money in your divorce and beyond. I am a former family law litigator who has represented hundreds of family law clients in thousands of family law hearings. I believe that it is not always necessary to hire an attorney at exorbitant cost to complete your family law case successfully. This guide can be your starting place for saving as much as possible during your family law case. You CAN do it yourself, and I can help.
If you need more assistance than this guide, I can also help with hourly coaching. With just an hour or two of coaching, I can guide you through the maze of forms, documents, requirements, expectations, and knowledge required to emerge from your family law filing, hearing, judgment or trial with success. My fees are a small fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney, most often 5% or less of this cost. In today's economy, having the backing and experience of an experienced family law litigator on your side at the cost of an attorney consultation can be the difference between winning your case or losing everything.
Following are 50 little-known secrets to saving a bundle in your family law case (in no particular order):
Organize your documents. When you get divorced, you need to know what you have at the date you married as well as the date you separated. You will need records of your bank accounts, stock accounts, retirement accounts, three years of tax returns (or more), at least three months of pay stubs, mortgage statements, purchase documents for any real estate you own, any refinance documents, any life insurance policies, statements of debt (credit cards, loans), automobile title documents, and any pre- or post-nuptial agreements.
Separate your joint bank accounts, i.e. your checking and savings.
Appraise your pension. (and your spouse's)
Consider a divorce coach/consultation with a lawyer instead of/before hiring a lawyer.
File on your own. (see Petition article)
Research your own financial situation - assemble account records, tax returns, etc.
Consider collaborative law when interviewing a lawyer.
Don't hire the lawyer who tells you not to speak to your spouse.
Separate panic from emergency - if he takes the kids, then this may be an emergency. If you suddenly wonder what will happen if he does, then this may be panic.
Wait until you have several questions before calling your lawyer.
Use email to talk to your lawyer - this may be cheaper if not cost nothing.
Be prepared when you come to meetings, court hearings, and mediation. Have any documents you've been asked to bring, prepare a list of questions or topics you want to go over.
Don't fight for fighting's sake. Most items can be replaced. Don't spend $1000 fighting over the $60 DVD player.
Compromise. If you agree to it, you're more likely to stick to it, which lessens fees later. Plus your compromise may encourage her to compromise and you'll fight less.
Do you really need a lawyer?
The best lawyer might not be the most expensive. Look for referrals.
Even with a good lawyer, you aren't always going to get the result you want. The reason people hate lawyers so much is because effective litigation (any kind) ends with both parties unhappy. Never is this more true in the case of a divorce. You cannot reasonably expect to get everything you want in a divorce. It's a divorce - it sucks. It's going to suck. And beyond cases of gross malpractice, most of that suckitude is not going to be your lawyer's fault. So lower your expectations and just try to get through.
Know when to give up.
Research and learn about California family law.
Avoid document preparers.
Know when you need an expert and use them: home or business appraisers, pension appraisers, custody evaluator, etc. Bankers, insurance agents, financial advisors, money managers/stockbrokers, accountants, therapist, credit counselor, private investigators.
Find out the possible outcomes if the judge decides.
Don't overvalue your household items.
See a tax specialist who will advise you on the tax consequences of your divorce and how to proceed in a way to save the most money.
Your divorce lawyer, your accountant, your kids, are not your therapist.
Divide personal items yourself.
Understand the position/role of your lawyer: s/he won't tell you how to save money on your fees.
Face facts: you might not like it, but California law provides for Social Security, child support - they're both very expensive - and equal division of property.
Be wary of emotional craziness. Don't go out and spend money.
Reality check: dividing into two households from one - with the same income - will be hard. Keep this in mind when house or apartment hunting.
Understand that in a divorce, everything takes longer and costs more than you expect. It may only take six months in theory, but even simple divorces can take 1-2 years or more. Consider selling the house - you may have to make repairs, you will have to get inspections, and put it on the market. It could take months or more to sell.
Your financial actions will affect each other, even if you've been separated for a long time. If you default or are late on a credit card, it will affect your spouse. This may cause retaliation.
Take the money and run: if offered the choice of cash now or a promise to pay later or monthly payments, take the cash NOW. A buy-out of spousal support may be appropriate and attractive to both parties. Why? Inflation, time value of money and risk-free nature of cash. For Social Security, he could lose his job.
Don't rush: Make careful, reasoned, thought-out decisions. Once you come to a judgment, it's for keeps and can't be changed.
Keep panic at bay. You'll likely have to take on tasks your spouse used to do and you won't like it because there's a reason your spouse took on these tasks. It can be overwhelming. Resist the urge (or need) to panic and pay someone to help when you can do it yourself. Break things into smaller tasks, join a therapy or support group, keep a journal, etc.
Pay your bills. For this, you may need to communicate. Late fees, finance charges, reinstatement fees (for utilities, phone), and damage to credit will be far harder to repair than just paying on time.
Don't cancel anything - maintain the status quo. Don't change or cancel health insurance, retirement payments, phone service, child care, etc.
Sever your joint tenancy - but ONLY with the agreement of the other spouse! Tenants in Common is better because your estate gets your portion.
Prepare for the end: talk to insurance brokers (health, auto, liability, home, life, long term care, disability), financial advisors, estate planners, account holders (change beneficiaries).
Don't use discovery to find out what you already know.
Make the decision on what to do with your house very carefully. If you want to keep it: can you buy out your spouse? Can you cover the costs of mortgage, insurance, property taxes, repairs, cleaning (general repairs, lawn/garden service & supplies, HOA, pool care, pest care, utilities)? If you decide to sell it, what is it really worth? What will it cost to get prepared for sale (inspections, repairs)? Can you afford the sale fees? What are the tax consequences to each of you?
Reality check #3: Child and spousal support will be MUCH more than the payor can "afford" to pay and will be not nearly enough for the payee to live on. Payee will have to get a job.
Plan for college expenses NOW. Talk to a financial advisor.
Change your routine - you're going to have to save money now. Consider buying groceries in bulk, bartering for services, setting up a babysitting exchange, rent out a room in your house, sell an asset.
Separate business and personal matters.
Understand you can't control your spouse.
Make a temporary agreement as quickly as possible.
Don't give into the feeling of, "I just want it over - I don't care what I get/what happens" Slow down.
Distinguish between needs & interests and positions/stances. Don't come out of the gate with, "I want the house and the children every weekend."
The court may order a 30-day stay of dissolution of marriage proceedings when it appears that there is a reasonable possibility of reconciliation. This is up to the judge and is typically only exercised when one spouse comes forth and states that he or she would like to try to save the marriage through counseling.
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