Now that you've decided to file for divorce, one of your first questions might be, "How much will it cost?" Unless your divorce is completely amicable, it can become very costly. But there are a number of things you can control to help keep those costs down.
1. Shop around for an attorney. Don't assume the highest paid attorney will bring you the highest return and vice versa. Many attorneys will offer an initial consultation at no charge. Take advantage of this and meet with the attorney in person. A face to face meeting can be very valuable in evaluating the attorney and how they practice.
- Are they constantly being interrupted during your consultation by the telephone? This could lead to a loss of valuable time if you hire the attorney and it happens during a meeting you're actually paying for.
- Is their office a mess with multiple files open at once and papers scattered everywhere? Again, valuable time is lost as papers become misfiled.
2. Don't sweat the small stuff. If you're arguing and listing every CD in your possession, be prepared to pay the price. I've had clients bring in garbage bags of "junk" from dish rags, shop towels, videos, even a pot scrubber. Yes, really! For the price they paid arguing about these items, they could buy thousands to replace them! Get a grip and use your head. Fight the battles that really matter like custody and child support or retirement division.
3. Don't call your attorney at the drop of a hat. Attorneys typically bill in quarter hour increments, rounded up. If they charge $300 per hour and you're constantly calling, that first invoice you receive will be multiple pages long with each telephone call at $75.00 a pop! Unless it's urgent (use your head when defining what's truly urgent) write down multiple questions you have and then call to make telephone time more cost efficient. Many clients find by doing this, they sometimes discover the answer they needed and avoid a call altogether.
4. Don't utilize your attorney or their staff as your therapist. Your attorney may in fact suggest you see a counselor. Most insurance will cover at least a portion of the cost. Using your attorney or the paralegal doesn't get you the help you really need. I said it before but it bears repeating, telephone calls cost money. See #3 above.
5. Review your invoice every month. If you don't receive a monthly invoice, ask for one. I am surprised at the number of people who come in seeking a second attorney who never received a statement from their first attorney. You need to know where your retainer is going and if you believe there is a mistake on your bill, now is the time to discuss it. It's much easier for you, the attorney and their staff, to recall the charges in question if done in a timely manner. Mistakes happen. You should not be billed for requesting or questioning charges on an invoice.
6. Don't take advice from friends or acquaintances just because they've been divorced. This typically prompts an angry phone call to your attorney just because they think you're getting the short end of the stick. I get a number of calls just for this reason. Many times what the client is angry about doesn't even apply in their case. Always bear in mind every case is different, including yours.
7. When you receive documents, correspondence and other items from your attorney,
- OPEN THEM
- READ THEM
- KEEP THEM where you can find them
Constant requests for information already sent to you will also add fees. Most firms charge for copies and postage, not to mention the time involved for a phone call so they can explain everything to you that was already explained in correspondence you received.
8. Utilize the paralegal on staff whenever possible. Their time bills at a lower rate than the attorney and he/she is most likely on top of your case. Keep in mind paralegals are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice. However, if they can't answer a question for you, they can discuss it with the attorney and get back to you, or have the attorney return your call if needed.
9. Ask about email communication. A lot of firms still charge for emails but many will have a much lower time increment as their minimum. A lot can be accomplished in an e-mail and you don't run the risk of rambling on about everything on the telephone.
10. When it comes to mediation and court appearances -be prepared and be on time. Time is money as time is billable. Be prepared when it comes to mediation and don't get all bull-headed just to spite the spouse. Spite is expensive and gets you nowhere.
Divorce can be costly, but if you follow some of these simple tips, you can save some change.