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Q&A: How can I keep the cost of my divorce down?

by Maren Swanson

Q&A: How can I keep the cost of my divorce down?

There’s no getting around it: if you hire a lawyer to handle your divorce, it can be pretty expensive. Many lawyers charge over $200 per hour and require several thousand dollars upfront to get started. Most of the cost is for lawyers’ and legal assistants’ time, and there are out-of-pocket expenses including a $400+ court filing fee.

Of course doing your own divorce without a lawyer can be expensive too. It is often more expensive to fix a mistake later than to do it right in the first place. And sometimes things simply can’t be changed once a court order is entered.

If you do hire a lawyer, there are ways to keep the cost down. Here are some tried and true suggestions:

• Provide all of the information and documents your lawyer asks for, promptly. The longer we have to wait for information, the more often we have to review your file to be sure we have received everything, and the more often we have to contact you to get what we need, the more it costs you.

• Organize your documents chronologically and by subject and be sure it’s clear what they pertain to. If we have to struggle to understand and organize your documents, this will increase your cost.

• Respond to all communications from us as promptly as possible. Again, follow-up takes time and costs money!

• Use your support network (family, friends, counselors) if you need moral support or personal advice or if you just need to vent. Focus your time with us on information that’s relevant to legal objectives. If you don’t know what that is, ask us.

• We will give you a questionnaire to help you understand the information we need from you. Basically, we need to know:

* What property you own and its value

* Whether any property may be “non-marital” (we’ll explain what this means)

* What debt you have

* The children who are involved in the divorce and what kind of custody arrangements you propose

* Any history of abuse (verbal, physical, emotional, chemical, etc.) that may affect your ability to participate in the divorce process (for instance, can you comfortably sit in the same room with your spouse for mediation?), or that may affect the well-being of the children

* Your and your spouse’s incomes and need for spousal support or child support

• Other subjects may or may not be relevant. For instance, a spouse’s affair is probably legally irrelevant (Minnesota is a “no-fault” divorce state), but we do want to know if an affair is affecting your children or if it affects your ability to focus on the legal aspects of your case.

• Be reasonable. Easy to say, hard to do when emotions are high. But judges try to do what’s fair and reasonable regardless of “fault,” so you might as well try to do that too! It is far less expensive to settle your case than to take it to trial, and you may spend thousands of dollars going to trial and then have a judge order something you do not like.

• Think about what outcomes are most important to you; prioritize. And think about what a dispute is worth to you (is it worth paying your lawyer thousands of dollars to fight over used furniture?).

• Fighting over a matter of “principle” can be financially and emotionally draining and may not satisfy either financial or emotional goals!

• You may feel that you were the primary parent and your spouse was barely involved with your children before, so why should he or she get parenting rights now? Be aware that many parents actually do become more involved with their children after divorce, whether because they realize what they were missing or because you aren’t there to carry the load anymore. And judges usually uphold both parents’ rights unless a parent presents a clear risk of harm to children.

• Remember that your view of a situation may not be the same as your spouse’s – and a judge may not know who is right or even who is telling the truth. It’s often better to compromise than to leave important decisions in the hands of a stranger.

• If you can’t reach agreement, be willing to try mediation and give it a good faith effort.

• Be aware that neither party is going to get everything they want, whether by settlement or at trial.

• Be reasonable (did I already say that?).

This is a lot to absorb, right? Feel free to call us and make an appointment for a free half hour initial consultation to discuss these things and more.


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