Taking Control of Legal Fees

By:  Julie Vogel

Going through a divorce can be overwhelming. A divorce may be your first and only encounter with an unfamiliar legal system, and it’s an encounter that will result in fundamental changes to the most intimate areas of your life.

It is surprisingly common for us to hear a client say, “Cost is no object. The most important thing for me is . . .” You can fill in the blank: whether it’s custody and parenting time with small children, a fair property settlement, an award of support and maintenance, or any and all of the above.

But cost does matter.  Legal fees, in particular, can mount up frighteningly fast unless you think carefully about how to allocate your resources. You want to start your new life in the best possible financial position, while still addressing the issues in your divorce fairly and thoroughly. So, while the last thing you might want to focus on is cost, here are some tips to keep your legal fees under control:

  1. You should respond promptly, fully and accurately to your attorney’s request for information and documentation. The discovery process can be tedious and frustrating, and it may feel intrusive to have to provide bank statements and credit card statements, for example. The goal in family law is to get an accurate picture of your circumstances to make sure any final settlement is fair. Unless both parties cooperate in the discovery process, your attorney won’t have accurate information, and won’t be able to negotiate a fair settlement.

Every time your attorney has to call you again to check on the status of requested information, that costs you money. Save yourself time and money by obtaining the documents on the first request and keeping current on discovery.

 

  1. You may be convinced that your spouse is hiding valuable assets, and indeed that does happen, although infrequently. Or, as happens more often, you may feel strongly that you should be awarded certain furniture, china, artwork, pets, or other personal property. Even though it may feel unfair, there are times when pursuing an asset of questionable value will cost more than the item in question.

It is even more difficult to assess the cost involving issues related to children. Sometimes Mom and Dad are locked in conflict over one overnight of parenting time. And sometimes that struggle is worth it. But it always makes sense to take a deep breath, step back, and honestly consider the cost and potential benefit of pursuing the struggle, both financially and emotionally.

In short, we will never minimize what is important to you in your divorce – only you know that, and we will support you. We will advise you realistically as to the cost versus potential benefit of pursuing various issues, and you will then have the means to make an informed decision about moving forward.

 

  1. We want you to communicate openly and honestly with us as your attorney, but before picking up the phone or pressing the send button, it pays to pause a moment and consider whether you need to incur fees at this time for this contact. Even in high conflict divorces, parties can often find ways to work out the day-to-day problems of children’s schedules or splitting certain expenses without having to involve attorneys. That is ideal. If that can’t work in your case, you should keep notes on questions as they come up or occur to you, and think about sending one email on a regular basis setting out your questions all at once. Your attorney can respond efficiently and at lower cost than if she is responding to many emails throughout the week.

We know there are times when it is important for you to talk with us, and you should not hesitate to call when the need arises. On those occasions when an immediate response is not required, consider whether another approach might be more cost-effective.

 

Going through a divorce can feel as if you are giving up control of sensitive and important parts of your life. As your attorney, we want to give you back some measure of control, and that includes control over your fees as much as possible. We hope these tips can help you in that process.

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