THE BLOG
10/21/2014 01:58 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Is the Size of your Wallet Proportionate to the Cost of Your Divorce?

JosA Luis GutiArrez via Getty Images

Have you ever felt like the price of items suddenly went up when you walked into a store? Surely, it's just your imagination. What about the costs for professional services? Is it possible that fees for professional services, such as therapists, contractors and lawyers, could be based upon how much they feel you can afford? What about the rich and famous? Do you think that they pay their divorce lawyers the same hourly rates and retainers as the rest of us? The answer is, "not likely." Whether you bargain-hunt at Kohl's, Walmart and Target, or shop at Bloomingdale's and Macy's, the prices for the items you desire are identifiable on the tag. You needn't reveal your income or net worth to make your purchase. So why is it that when the item you desire is a divorce, your attorney requests full disclosure of your financial net worth before you make your purchase? Is it possible that the size of your bank account is related to the legal fees and costs of your divorce? The answer this time is, "likely."

Celebrity divorces are a great example of "the wealthier you are, the more you pay." Whether you're a mega-star or a stage actress in the local playhouse, shouldn't your basic legal costs be at least in the same stratosphere? Entertainment media and news outlets love to report the uber-sized divorce settlements of celebrities like Mel Gibson (estimated at $425 million,) Tiger Woods (estimated at $100 million,) and Michael Jordan (estimated at $168 million.) Where are the reports about what it cost the splitsville couple to reach that settlement? Surprisingly, the lists of "most expensive divorces" are determined largely by the size of the settlement, not the cost of getting there.

Where are the headliners that read, "Legal fees for the divorce were in the millions?" You have to dig deep to find those figures. In 2010, it was reported that Frank and Jamie McCourt's legal fees reached $19 million (his were estimated at $5 to $10 million, while hers were reportedly $9 million.) While clearly, this is an aberration, the point is simple: Divorce is expensive. And just how expensive may depend upon the size of your wallet. While mega-watt settlements splash all across social media, the statistics for divorce costs (legal fees and expenses) are largely unavailable because the industry is loathe to report such figures. Instead, the estimated legal costs and expenses are cloaked behind "privacy" and "confidentiality" doors, which stay closed to protect the profession. What's interesting, however, is that you don't have to be a celebrity to run-up a hefty legal bill for your divorce. You only have to be RICH.

Most pre-divorcees want to know, "What will my divorce cost?" They're not asking about the alimony, the children support, or even the division of their assets. They want to know how much money it will take to go through the legal process! As with so many other legal questions, unless you are paying a flat-rate, "it depends," is the only fair answer. Legal fees and expenses are largely a function of your tolerance, and depend on what you (or your spouse) can afford. Many couples find themselves deep in legal battles, depleting their life savings in legal fees fighting over the division of those same assets.

What drives excessive litigation costs? How can you minimize the costs associated with your divorce and protect yourself and your family? Below are a few tips:

1. Avoid allowing your emotions to drive the divorce process. When tempers flare, hostilities escalate. And when hostilities escalate, so too will the cost of your divorce. High-conflict divorces are some of the most expensive divorces to litigate because they require several multi-disciplinary professionals, such as Therapists, Mediators, Psychologists, Guardians Ad Litem, Parenting Coordinators, Forensic Accountants, and others to sort-out their issues.
2. Push back on your attorney. Remember that you are the client, and at the end of the day, you are the one paying the bills. Insist on being part of the decision-making process with respect to the discovery process. Suggest mediation early-on to mitigate the litigation costs.
3. Hire a divorce coach. Divorce coaches should be leveraged to guide you through the process. Because their fees are often a fraction of your attorneys' hourly rate, they are an excellent resource when you have questions about the process. Without interfering with your attorney/client relationship or dishing out legal advice, an effective divorce coach should be able to explain issues as they arise and discuss alternatives to help you reach resolution.
4. Keep your eyes on the prize. The "prize" isn't necessarily winning. The prize is reaching a fair resolution without destroying your life.
5. Be proactive, not reactive. Control the tempo of your lawsuit by setting some realistic parameters with your legal team. Become an integral part of the team, not just someone watching from the sidelines.