Seven Tips to help you keep more of your money at a time when you especially need it to support two households instead of one.
Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about divorce and all related issues. The more you know, the less money you'll spend paying an attorney to educate you or get you out of the mess you unknowingly created. Research the divorce laws of your state, whether through a local law library or the internet. NCdivorce.com is the most comprehensive divorce website in North Carolina. The site features a discussion forum with questions answered by lawyers, a child support calculator, the latest cases from the North Carolina Courts, numerous essays and information on all divorce issues, seminar videos, and lots more. Reading the information on this site will dramatically improve your effectiveness and efficiency in interacting with your lawyer and negotiating with your spouse.
DO NOT LITIGATE. If you want to keep your money instead of giving it to a lawyer, go to court only as a last resort, only if all else fails. Try negotiation, try mediation, try collaborative divorce, try settlement conferences but do not litigate. You may win at trial, but at what cost? Litigation is destructive, expensive and gut wrenching. Litigate only if you have no other option. Litigation is, unfortunately, necessary in some cases. There will always be people that just can not agree no matter how hard you try. Reserve litigation for the most desperate situations.
Consider a Collaborative Divorce. If you and your spouse want the benefit of legal expertise without the threat of a court battle or the expense of drawn out negotiations between attorneys, consider this cooperative approach to ending a marriage. Creative problem solving helps couples resolve issues so that everyone gets more of want they want, with lower legal fees.
Make a list of all the things you and your spouse agree on first. By getting these things covered first you may be able to save money by only working with a paid professional to resolve the areas of disagreement. Plus, maybe you'll realize that you agree on all the major issues and the others aren't worth fighting over.
Don't sign a blank check. Signing an agreement with a lawyer that calls for hourly billing is like signing a blank check. Be careful. Let's face facts ? hourly billing encourages what? Billing! Find a lawyer who can tell you what your case will cost. The only way to be certain of your attorney fee is to get a firm commitment on a fixed fee. Short of a fixed fee you need frequent updates on the costs that you have incurred (if it were our money we would want daily, real-time, updates over the internet) and we would want the authority to accept or reject any action that would result in our paying more money. It just doesn't make sense to give someone the economic incentive to make your life miserable by dragging things out. Doctors don't bill hourly ? they charge you a fixed fee for your office visit or your surgery. Lawyers want you to believe that they can't predict your fee. If they won't tell you how much it costs then don't buy it.
Do a cost-benefit analysis. In divorce, it is easy to get caught up in the emotion and make all of your decisions from that vantage point. This can be a mistake though; spending some time analyzing your case from a logical, cost-benefit perspective can pay dividends. Keep your eye on the ball and stay focused on getting the divorce finished so you can move on with your life. It is not uncommon for divorcing people to do things like spend $500 to get a $100 microwave oven. Don't do it. If you can't see a clear connection between your actions and achieving a final resolution of your case, then don't take that action.
Other ways to minimize legal fees. Holding legal fees down should not be carried out in such a way that you become penny-wise and pound-foolish. Don't, for example, rely on your spouse's lawyer to do all the work. Opposing counsel is not safeguarding your interests, of that you can be certain. You can lower your own legal fees however, if your lawyer charges on an hourly basis, by avoiding long-winded telephone conversations and unnecessarily long meetings with your attorney, by doing lots of the document "homework" on your own, by taking as reasonable a position as possible in negotiations, and by steering clear of protracted litigation. Document "homework," which is described in other sections of this website, is an integral requirement for proper divorce planning. Read that material now; then read it again later. For more information visit http://www.rosen.com.
Lee S. Rosen is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of Rosen Divorce. Rosen Divorce is the largest divorce firm in the Southeastern United States. For more information visit http://www.rosen.com.