Divorce is tough, but you do have choices. You can choose to control your divorce, or you can let your divorce control you. A big part of controlling your divorce is controlling the cost of your divorce. Although your attorney is the expert, there are things that you can and should do if you want to keep your assets instead of giving them to your attorney.
Here are the top five ways to save money during your divorce.
- Don't make your attorney the conduit for communication. Your attorney should be helping you understand the law and how it applies to your divorce. He or she may even help you keep your emotions in check, and make certain you don't say or do something you regret. However, if you are using your attorney to communicate about who is going to pick up the kids from school or find the address of your mortgage company, you need to take a step back and understand where your money is going.
- Voluntarily exchange information about income, assets and debt. During your divorce, you can do things the easy way or the hard way. What people often forget by doing things the hard way is that it generally equates to more money in your attorney's pocket. For example, if your assets and debts consist of your home, cars and retirement accounts, you should be able to voluntarily exchange documentation that shows the balance of your mortgage, car loans and retirement accounts. As for the value of your cars, check out Kelley Blue Book or edmunds.com. If you can't agree on the value of your home, look at the tax appraised value, speak with a real estate agent or have it appraised. Additionally, instead of each spouse incurring the cost of determining the value of an asset, consider sharing the information and cost. The alternative to voluntarily exchanging information is exchanging formal discovery, which will require you to spend money on your attorney preparing written questions and requests for documents that your spouse will have to answer with the assistance of his or her attorney. When your spouse provides his or her answers, your attorney will have to review the answers, which further increases your attorney fees. Here's the bottom line: ask yourself how much is at stake and whether you can obtain the information voluntarily. If you can't get the information voluntarily, then ask yourself if obtaining the information is worth the amount you will spend in attorney fees and other costs.
- Don't ask for information you know or to which you have access. Understandably, when you're going through a divorce, it's easy to not see the forest through the trees. The amount of money you spend on your attorney will reduce the amount of money you get to keep for yourself. If all of your financial accounts were jointly titled, don't spend money having your attorney ask the other side for copies of account statements that you can retrieve yourself. Likewise, if you were the spouse who handled the monthly bills, don't spend money having your attorney ask the other side for information or documentation about the monthly bills. If you do, the reality is that you will more than likely be providing your spouse with the answers to your attorney's questions.
- Don't fight about things you don't care about. Remember the wheel coffee table in the movie "When Harry Met Sally"? If you don't, rent the movie. It is a perfect portrayal of how people going through a divorce can spend thousands of dollars fighting over a piece of property that neither party really wants. Regardless of how much your spouse wants an item, and how much you don't want your spouse to get anything he or she wants, if you don't care about it, don't fight over it. You also need to keep in mind the value of the property at issue. If you both want a television that costs $300 to purchase new, don't spend $600 in attorney's fees trying to get it.
- Make certain you know what your attorney is doing, and why he or she is doing it. Your attorney is supposed to represent your interests during your divorce. However, if you don't know what your attorney is doing, or why he or she is doing it, how do you know your interests are being represented? You don't. Although the thought that someone would hire an attorney and not discuss the progress of his or her case seems crazy, the reality of divorce is often anything but normal. It is not uncommon for someone to avoid his or her attorney because the pain of dealing with the divorce is just too great. The problem is that if you don't deal with it, the pain from the final orders and the costs may be much worse. Thus, it is essential that you talk to your attorney about what you want out of the divorce, whether your "wants" are realistic and what needs to be done to receive the desired results. Don't be afraid to ask your attorney if something can be done less expensively, or tell him or her that you can get the information or documentation requested. Similarly, there isn't anything wrong with questioning your attorney about whether a certain issue should be pursued.
The bottom line is that you need to remember that this is your divorce, and your attorney is working for you, because when the smoke clears, you will be the one who has to live with cost of the divorce and the ultimate result.