Divorce is almost always a painful experience. But you can limit the pain to your finances if you remember one basic principle: your lawyer is working on an hourly basis. That means that to save money you will want to minimize the number of hours the lawyer spends working on your case.
Your mileage may vary, and some of the suggestions in this guide may not be appropriate for your case. But for most, these guidelines will steer you away from the pitfalls that can result in extra expense on the way to escaping a failed marriage.
- Be organized. Organize your personal information in advance. Have the statistical information ready: full names of adults and children, social security numbers, dates and places of birth, date and place of marriage, whether it was a civil or religious ceremony. If you have all this information in advance, your lawyer will be able to plug it in to the multiple places the statistical stuff is needed as you move towards your divorce. Get your tax returns and other financial information ready. If child support or spousal support are at issue you'll need up to three years of tax returns as well as your most recent check stubs to show current income.
- Control your emotions. Divorce is a difficult thing for many people, but try to see this aspect as a business deal. Sure, you'll have to deal with the emotionally difficult issue of breaking up. But try to deal with the legal aspect as just dividing the dishes. Think of this as #2-A: be reasonable. Litigating is expensive, so you should always try to resolve as much as you can with your spouse before bringing in the lawyers. If you can resolve issues like custody, visitation and holiday schedules, property distribution or grounds for a divorce, you're cutting down on the time it will take to finish the negotiations the lawyers will be doing. Remember, when the lawyers are negotiating. the clock is ticking - at at least double time. The lawyers can help you get past issues on which you disagree, but if you're arguing over little things, the cost of the argument will be more than the cost of replacing whatever wedding present you think you should have.
- Unless you need instant answers, e-mail your attorney with questions rather than asking them on the phone. That way you'll get a complete answer that you'll be able to absorb at your own pace, rather than trying to take notes on a conversation and perhaps having to repeat things that you don't understand when they're spoken rather than written.
- Don't let your lawyer get caught by surprise. That means don't be embarassed, tell your lawyer the unvarnished truth about everything you're asked. The attorney won't be judging you, but you and the attorney will be the losers if the other side contradicts something your attorney has put forth as a fact.
- Try to limit the amount of hand holding you need. Of course divorce is an painful process, an emotional rollercoaster. You'll need to talk to your lawyer about any number of important issues. Ask questions whenever you have them, and don't be shy about making suggestions if you have them. But if you can get your emotional support from friends rather than your attorney, you can save significant amounts of money.
Above all, remember, you can be penny wise and pound foolish. Saving money on legal fees isn't a good idea if the result is a bad outcome. But if you can use some of these suggestions you'll find that your legal costs are lowered substantially over the course of a contested divorce.