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10 Tips to Control Legal Fees During Divorce
1. Speak to the secretary or paralegal when possible.
You may want to know if your spouse's attorney has responded to a letter from your attorney or provided information your attorney has requested. Office staff can answer these types of calls. They bill at a much lower hourly rate than your attorney. Save the conversations with the attorney for important legal issues.
2. Make your own copies of your tax returns and other required documents.
If you hand your tax returns, monthly financial statements and other requested documents to your attorney, they will hand them to their office staff and charge you to have their staff make copies. Simple tasks as this can be billed out at $50 per hour. Make a trip to Kinkos and save on this legal expense.
3. Make all calls to your attorney's office from your cell phone.
This allows you to check your attorney's bill against your cell phone bill. Attorneys are human and mistakes can be made.
4. Communicate directly with your spouse as much as possible.
Attorneys are best utilized for legal matters. It is not cost effective for your attorney and your spouse's attorney to communicate back and forth concerning your preference to have the kids on even years for Christmas or your desire to keep the treadmill and the sofa. The combined hourly fee of two attorneys can easily be $600 per hour. Save the extra cash for your IRA and discuss (or email) minor issues directly with your spouse.
5. Consider Mediation.
Mediation involves you and your spouse meeting with a neutral third party to try and reach a settlement. The mediator may be a lawyer, a therapist or other professional who has received mediation training. The mediator can not give advice or tell you what to do. They are skilled in helping you over "sticking points". A mediator who is also an attorney can provide legal information to both spouses while working toward a resolution. Using a mediator can save you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, is less combative than legal proceedings and worth investigating, especially if you have children. Nashville area Mediator List.
6. Educate yourself about legal issues.
Your attorney has dozens of clients and cases. When you leave their office, they have a client at 1:30 PM, 2:45 PM and another at 4 PM. YOU are your only client. You have a vested interest in your future and your children's future. Use the internet to educate yourself about your legal options and what people in similar situations have received in their divorce settlements. Hire a financial consultant who will help you understand the numbers so you know what to ask for. Don't leave those decisions to a stranger.
7. Understand the attorney's billable hour.
Most attorneys bill in increments of 15 minutes. That means if you call them to ask a question and speak for 7 minutes, you could be billed for 15 minutes of their time. It is amazing how fast your legal bill can grow as a result of a few quick phone calls. Ask your attorney how they bill for their time and use it wisely. Email as much as possible to communicate with your attorney. This allows them to answer your question when they are not distracted by other issues, minimizes their down time and your bill.
8. Hire a divorce attorney, not an attorney that also handles divorces.
Your annual physical exam is performed by your internist. If a problem is found, they will refer you to a specialist such as a cardiologist. So, why would you hire an attorney that serves as an internist for legal issues to handle your divorce? Yes, they may cost less per hour than a divorce attorney. However, they could end up costing you far more than the legal fees you save if they mishandle aspects of your divorce. The medical and legal professions have specialists for good reason.
9. Don't believe that your settlement must conform to what a judge would order if your case went to court.
Less than 5% of all divorce cases end up in court. It is not likely that a judge will decide your case. Don't agree to a 50/50 split because your spouse says that is what the court would decide. You could get more. Each situation is unique. If you want more than 50% you will probably need to use financial analysis to prove your case to your spouse, not a judge.
10. Your attorney is not a licensed therapist or financial consultant.
Rely on your attorney for legal advice. Discussing your emotional state with your attorney may allow you to vent, but it is a very expensive therapy session. Rely on your therapist, who charges much less per hour for therapy and spend the money you saved on a night out with your friends. Your attorney is also not qualified to provide you with the financial analysis to help you determine which assets to keep, or if you can afford to stay in your house. Hire a financial professional who has training and experience in this area to run the numbers.
The grounds to file a complaint for a legal separation are the same as for a divorce. The court can address child custody, visitation, support, and property issues during legal separation upon motion by either party or by agreement of the parties. The court has the power to grant an absolute divorce to either party if there has been an order of legal separation for more than two years, the parties have not reconciled, and either party files a petition for an absolute divorce.
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