Going through a divorce is rarely a pleasant experience, so it makes sense that unnecessarily driving up the cost of a divorce attorney only adds more stress. The clients I’ve had whose divorces were the least expensive almost always abided by the following guidelines:
1. Don’t Make Your Attorney Do Work that You Can Do Yourself
In many cases, the parties exchange financial documents and create inventories listing their assets and debts. Sometimes this is through a formal process called “discovery,” and other times it’s done on a more limited scale by agreement between the attorneys. In either event, when clients fail to provide all of the requested documents, or leave them with their attorney without first carefully organizing them, they force the attorney and/or the attorney’s staff to spend time fielding complaints from the opposing lawyer about incomplete disclosure, or to painstakingly sift through a jumble of credit card statements and balance sheets to put them in a presentable format. Since the financial information is going to have to be exchanged and understood one way or another, the client has the choice of taking the time to do as much of the non-legal work on their own as possible, or paying their attorney by the hour to do it for them.
2. Walk Away From the Small Disputes
Not surprisingly, parties in the middle of a divorce don’t always get along. As unfortunate as it may be, it’s not unusual for one or both of the parties to look for small ways to make the other squirm. Judges universally dislike playing referee to petty disputes between adults and will usually blame both parties for their failure to cooperate. Parties bent on fighting will often use household items and expenses to wage their emotional war. Examples include failing to pay a utility bill on time (and “forgetting” to mention it to their spouse), or intentionally removing property from the home upon separation that they know the other party will miss. Obviously, if the electricity gets shut off, something needs to be done, but short of an emergency like that, it’s normally a bad idea to pay an attorney several hundred dollars per hour to fight over a $50 late fee, or a stack of DVDs that can be replaced on Craigslist for less than it costs to have an attorney try to get them back. This means the client may have to swallow their pride and take the high road, but the alternative only results in higher fees and more bitterness.
3. Listen to your Attorney, Even If it’s Not What You Want to Hear
A client hires their attorney for their legal expertise and familiarity with the court system. Sometimes the law is at odds with what a client wants to do, and each Judge brings his or her own opinions and unique triggers for irritation to the table, which means an effective strategy in one court may not work in another. In addition to knowing the law, the attorney will usually be familiar with the judge or judges who will preside over their client’s case. That means a good attorney will steer a client away from goals or courses of conduct that are either unattainable or could put their client at a legal disadvantage, even when it’s not the direction the client wants to go. If the client is really paying attention, they’ll probably notice that the things they don’t want to hear will actually save money, and, by implication, means their attorney will cost less in the long run. If you have an attorney who tries to keep you from giving them your hard-earned money, it’s probably worth listening to what they have to say.