Is divorce on your horizon? If so, you need to brace yourself. First, take a moment to read through 13 things you should do right now to protect yourself. When you're finished with that, pick yourself up, walk over to a mirror, and stare yourself down. After a minute or two in silence, recite the following: I will not let principle dictate my path. I will educate myself. I will protect myself. I will learn from this. I will strive to become a better person. This is not an endgame; it is a new beginning.
While there's no definitive statistic of which I am aware, my experience as a divorce attorney over the past ten years reflects that it is common for parties to spend on average $10,000 - $15,000 each from start to finish. The sad reality is, that money comes from one divided pool, often times accumulated over years through hard work and dedication or, where there are no assets, amassed quickly in credit debt or borrowed from friends and family. If you must be a statistic, be one of the smart few who are able to resolve their differences by agreement and finalize their divorce for as little as $200 - 500. Consider what you could do with the money you'd spend on legal fees alone. You owe it to yourself to try.
In cases where this isn't an option, there are still things you can do to minimize your legal fees in a divorce. The following are just five simple steps you can take to help kickstart savings in your divorce.
1. Get Organized; Remove the Clutter
Do you recall the last time you moved? Have you ever tried moving yourself, without the help of professional movers? You start out well intentioned. You purchase moving boxes, have Sharpies ready on hand to label them according to contents, and you go from room to room, carefully packing like items and stacking neatly sealed boxes near the exit closest to where you'll ultimately load everything onto a rented moving truck. As time goes on and the boxes stack up to form a wall of accomplishment, you pat yourself on the back. You think to yourself, I got this!
Your motivation slowly morphs into a sense of desperation. As your moving date fast approaches you become thoroughly overwhelmed. Boxes are less carefully organized and you struggle to label them in a way that fits logically. Old papers and stacks of things you should sort through and purge are tossed haphazardly into boxes labeled "papers" or "stuff." Moving day arrives and you scramble to throw even more last minute items into boxes. When you run out of boxes, you resort to using trash bags and luggage.
Somehow you manage to make it through the move. You always do. When you arrive at your new home, you start to unload everything according to the room labeled on the box, leaving some behind in the garage or a spare room to be opened and sorted after you've settled in. In the mix you find old boxes from your last move that were never opened and sorted and you stack those with the others. This time you will purge. You will organize and purge!
After a year or more, you need something you recall is packed away in the box room. You stumble in and trip over stacks of boxes and bags. You just know it's there somewhere. You rip open boxes and frantically search through a few before finally giving up, only to find yourself at Target later that same day buying another deviled egg storage container. Oh, and don't worry, your first one will show up the moment you use the new one and your time for returning it has expired.
You are now the proud owner of two deviled egg storage containers!
Do not be this person when it comes time to sort through your life. Have your important documents handy (tax returns, vital records, retirement/employment related statements, insurance policies, etc.). Sort through your finances and know where your money goes each month. If you haven't already, implement a system immediately. It doesn't really matter what it is (although there are certainly some that are better than others), as much as it does that you have one in the first place. Having nothing in place is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. If you receive a bill or statement, decide what to do with it right away. Touch each document only once, if you can. Do not put it in a stack and tell yourself you'll sort it later. You won't. It will go from pile to pile to pile, never finding its way to a proper place. If you are technologically inclined, buy a Neat scanner and scan it in.
Do something! Do it today!
2. Do Your Homework; The Best Attorney Will Not Necessarily Rank First in Google!
Some firms offers free introductory consultations to prospective clients. Other charge a reduced rate for the same. Take advantage of their generosity. Make a well-informed decision. If you were planning an addition to your house, you wouldn't likely pick someone at random. You'd want someone that comes highly recommended and has great reviews. You may even meet with three or more and have them bid against each other for your money. Why wouldn't you do the same for your legal representation? Is it not important?
While money is a factor, the amount you spend on your attorney is not indicative of the result you'll receive. There is just no direct correlation. Before you commit, seek out no fewer than three consultations and pick the one that speaks to you, the one that you believe will get the job done right. It will be time and money well spent in the end.
Also, do not fall into the trap of believing the first place Google result is the best one out there. Some of the best attorneys do not rank well online. Online advertising competition is fierce and terribly expensive. Those who rank in the top spots on the first page of Google (even organically) have put a lot of time and money into their online advertising campaign. They spend thousands each month to be the first person you see when you're searching for legal counsel online. It doesn't mean they are the best person for the job. They are good at advertising. I'll give them that. But does it mean they are excellent attorneys? That's for you to decide.
Don't believe me? Try it. Go online and head over to Google. Type in your search query. Do you feel good about number 1? Do you know anything about her? How did she make it to the number 1 spot? Is she any better than the attorneys that show up on page 5, 6, 7, or 8 of the results? Not likely.
Do not be afraid to try a different search query. Click on the next page ... and then the next. Keep going until you find the right fit for you and your case.
Your ideal divorce attorney may not be Google's number 1 search result.
3. Roll Up Your Sleeves; Put in a Little Elbow Grease
If your attorney asks you to bring in a copy of your bank records, your first reaction may be to log onto your bank webpage, download the .pdfs, and then fax or email them to her. Sounds easy, right?
Ask yourself, why does she need them? What will she do with them? Don't be afraid to ask her too. Whatever you do, don't assume? Perhaps she needs them to respond to a request for production of documents from your spouse's attorney. If that's the case, she'll likely need to retain a copy for her file as well. If you faxed or emailed a copy to her, she (or her assistant), will need to print off two copies and organize them for her file and opposing counsel. You're paying your attorney to do administrative work. Scratch that. You're paying your attorney a lot of money to do what you could do or pay someone else to do for much, much less.
Do not pay your attorney to do administrative work!
If your attorney needs something you are perfectly capable of getting for her, get it. Ask your attorney whether there is anything you can do to help minimize legal costs. If she tells you there is nothing you can do, perhaps consider revisiting step #2 above.
Also, listen to your attorney. If she gives you a list of things to do, do them. Make a list for yourself and check off each action item one by one. When you are finished, send your attorney a quick email with a progress update.
If you're told to appear in court at 9:00 a.m., show up a half hour early. If you're on time, you're late. Account for the unexpected. Do not be the reason you didn't win your case!
4. Hire a Therapist
I can almost guarantee a licensed therapist will cost less than your divorce attorney. And while your divorce attorney may willing to sit and listen, she is likely not the best person to help you deal with your emotional issues. Your attorney is paid to listen. I tell my clients that if they want therapy, I'll listen. I'll listen all day long if that's what they want. I'm not heartless. I also warn them that I charge by the hour. If they want to pay my hourly rate for me to sit quietly and listen, then that's their prerogative.
What I also tell them is that a therapist is much cheaper and ideally better than me at what they do. I am a divorce attorney. I handle divorces. A therapist handles therapy. After all, you wouldn't want to hire me to design your website or fix your car. I may be good at both, but in the end, I am a divorce attorney. This is one time when a two for one just doesn't make sense.
If you need a therapist, hire one!
5. Be Honest With Yourself
If you find yourself compromising in the end, remember that you are the only one that has to live with your decision. You. Not your friend. Not your mom or your dad. Not your attorney. You. You need to make a decision that you will not live to regret in months or years from the time a judge puts pen to paper and grants your divorce. Compromise is good and can save thousands of dollars in the end. Just make sure that you are not making a rash decision to get out of a relationship quickly, only to find yourself regretting your decision for years to come.
Short-term gains will often yield long-term regret! Compromise can be a wonderful thing and can help save thousands at the end of the day, but you need to be realistic. Be fair to yourself.
DAWN Manager, Gail Saukas shares her tips on how to save money on divorce. While far from exhaustive, you should at least consider her sage words of wisdom before moving forward. Here is a link to her video: http://wotv4women.com/2015/11/14/tips-to-save-money-on-divorce/
If saving money is your thing and divorce is on your horizon, consider Frugal Legal Services as an option to handle your no fault, uncontested divorce today. Everything is online. It's inexpensive and it's easy. What more could you ask for?