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Top 10 ways to minimize legal fees in a Divorce case.

So, you have hired an attorney and are ready to file for divorce; perhaps you were served divorce papers and notice your spouse hired an attorney.  In either case, chances are high that one of your immediate thoughts will be “how much will this case cost me in attorney fees?”  To that question, the answer is simple: more than you’ll ever want to spend.

Fortunately, divorce does not need to lead to your financial ruin.  While some may not be done depending on the specific divorce issues, I have put together the following list providing 10 surefire ways to keep your divorce legal costs down.

  1. Communicate with your spouse in writing. You know your spouse better than the judge or any attorney involved in your case.  The best way to convince attorneys and judges that you are level-headed and a reasonable person, and any negative statements purportedly made by your spouse is incorrect, is to corroborate your version of events with actual written documentation containing back and forth statements between you and your spouse.  Unless there are real concerns about domestic abuse or other legitimate reasons, which legally prevent you from communicating with your spouse, by all means do not sever your ongoing communication with your spouse just because a divorce action is pending. By maintaining communication, small issues could be worked out without the need of negotiation between attorneys.  However, if you talk with your spouse on the phone or in person, confirm, in detail, the discussion in an email or letter and promptly send it to your spouse (a give a copy to your attorney).
  2. Control yourself. The only person you can absolutely control is yourself.   If you set the tone by maintaining your composure and working with your lawyer towards your legal goals, you do not fall down the rabbit hole of unnecessary litigation over minor issues.    If you maintain control of yourself at all times, refrain from being reactive,  you may actually influence and/or anticipate the behaviors of others.
  3. Have realistic expectations. Neither the attorneys representing the parties, nor the judge deciding your case, wrote the law.  Your attorney’s job is to educate you on the law, give you an assessment as to what the judge may do, and give you the opportunity to make informed choices on whether to compromise or not on specific issues.  Your attorney cannot guarantee what the judge will do. In most cases, a settlement agreement between the parties is more favorable to both parties than when the court is tasked with making the decision.  Under law, the trial judge is the one who will determine the credibility of the parties and witnesses, give weight to the evidence introduced, and use his or her discretion to resolve a dispute.  If you have unreasonable expectations, you can expect disappointment as your return on divorce-cost-investment.
  4. Remember that your spouse is going through a divorce too. Fear, anxiety, depression, frustration, anger – these are things you may experience at some point during your divorce case.  You are human and you are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, remember, your spouse is as well.  Even if you disagree with your spouse on a particular issue, try to see through your spouse’s eyes; try to understand your spouse’s motivations, desires, and fears.
  5. Be an active participant in your case.  The more information you are able to provide your attorney, the better.  Timely provide (and continuously supplement) your attorney with any financially-related information (bank statements, wage statements, retirement statements, etc.).  Do not wait for your attorney to ask you.  If you threw away your statement, go obtain another one.  Your attorney will charge you for everything he or she does, after all, you are hiring them to provide a service.   As a result, the less you rely on your attorney to perform standard tasks you are capable of doing, the more money will be available for the attorney to do things you need the attorney to do for you.
  6. Compartmentalize the issues. Most divorces result in settlement.  Unfortunately, most settlements are reached close to the final trial date, after the parties have exhausted their emotional capital and financial resources.  Early in your case, remember to seek a compromise on as many individual issues as possible.  Do not approach settlement as an all-or-nothing situation.  If a court trial is necessary, it will cost less to litigate one or two narrow issues, than to have a trial on everything.
  7. Embrace your power to decide. Sometimes it is the attorneys for the parties who are the biggest impediment to the parties reaching a compromise on some or all of the issues.  If you and your spouse agree on an issue, tell your attorney.  The attorney’s job is to give you his or her opinion as whether the agreement is or is not in your best interests (which can be viewed narrowly or broadly depending on the attorney) – it is not for your attorney to make the decision on whether you agree or disagree. The power to agree or disagree rests exclusively with the parties, not the attorneys.
  8. Communicate with your spouse. Attorneys are ethically prohibited from speaking directly with the other spouse party in a divorce, if that spouse party is represented by an attorney in that same divorce action. This prohibition does not limit a spouse’s ability to speak with, or share information, directly with the other spouse.  While you should first talk to your attorney to get some tips on how to communicate with your spouse, communicate as often you can with your spouse.  The communication must be civil, respectful, and never include ultimatums.  Even if parties who directly communicate are unable to reach an agreement, the communications are an effective manner to obtain insider information that your attorney can use facilitate settlement or prepare for litigation.
  9. Use your attorney and his/her staff’s time wisely. Most attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants are billing at an hourly rate and rounding-up to the nearest tenth of an hour.  If need to talk to your attorney or send the attorney correspondence, make sure that the communication is related to your case.  Your attorney will charge you for their time and expect to be paid for it, just as you expect to go to work and get paid for the time you work.  Act! Don’t react.  Assume everything you do and say will be presented to the judge.  What you say, how you say it, and what you do is critical in your divorce. Even if the other party is acting or speaking inappropriately, you must think before you speak, write, or do.  If what you say, write, or do does not provide you an advantage in the case, you must refrain.  One act or word done without thinking can have disastrous consequences on the outcome of a divorce action.

Divorce Lawyer Nicholas Pasquale. Appleton Sheboygan Green Bay