Suggestions for Controlling the Cost of Divorce
We’ve all seen the headlines – high profile actors, business-people, and movie-stars settling divorces for millions - or even hundreds of millions - of dollars. It begs the question – why does it cost so much?
And if you happen to be considering a divorce, you may be wondering – how much will mine cost?
The Average Cost of Divorce in Florida
According to lawyers.com, divorce in Florida costs an average of $13,500, including almost $11,000 in attorneys’ fees, and lasts 15 months.
For a divorce involving children, the average cost is $20,300 over almost 17 months.
Without kids, those averages drop to $13,000 and 10 months.
As these statistics illustrate, the two primary drivers of the cost of divorce are (1) whether children are involved; and (2) how long the divorce process takes.
Unsurprisingly, when children are involved, divorce typically lasts longer and, therefore, is more expensive. This is primarily due to the fact that child custody disputes are emotionally charged and, therefore, the most difficult to resolve.
If you are considering divorce, here are a few tips on how to keep the cost of divorce under control.
1. Understand What You’re Paying For
The lion's share of divorce costs are attorneys’ fees. With most divorces handled on an hourly basis, the more time your attorney spends working on your divorce, the more it will cost. Your attorney will spend time on the phone with opposing counsel, the court, and expert witnesses. She will also spend time researching and writing motions, preparing for court hearings, depositions, mediation, and possibly trial. You want your lawyer to appear in court well-prepared. But that preparation takes time, and your attorney’s time costs money.
Of course, your attorney will also spend time on the phone with you. The more time you spend on the phone with your attorney, the higher you legal bills will be. Don’t misunderstand – I’m certainly not discouraging anyone from contacting their attorney! You hired your lawyer for a reason, and you absolutely need to feel comfortable talking to your lawyer. That’s why we’re here. But – those phone calls and meetings cost money. If you’re trying to control costs, understand that additional time spent on the phone can make your divorce more expensive.
One strategy to control costs is to be efficient when you’re talking to your lawyer. Instead of calling multiple times a week about every thing that comes up, make a point of writing down your questions, then bring them all up in a single appointment or phone call. This could be a weekly call, a monthly meeting, or whatever works best for you. The point is, by “batching” your questions, you will save yourself money. While the single phone call might be longer, in the long run, being able to address a number of questions in one meeting will reduce the total overall amount of time spent on the phone throughout the duration of the divorce.
When you do speak with your attorney, try to stay focused and on point. Of course, divorce is emotional. There will be times you need to discuss how you’re feeling. But be on guard against letting your divorce attorney become your de facto therapist. Your attorney is there to help guide you through the divorce process. Keeping your questions efficient and on point will help keep the cost of divorce under control.
2. Be Clear On Who Is Paying for What
Sometimes people assume their spouse will be footing the bill for all the attorney’s fees, only to find out in the end that this may not the case. In trying to control costs, remember that the bigger the proverbial pie, the more money you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse will have to divide. Ultimately, that means more money for you.
3. More Complicated Divorce Is More Expensive
Couples with a relatively simple financial situation can often get away with a relatively inexpensive divorce. The more complicated your financial situation, the more costly your divorce is likely to be.
When dealing with a complex financial picture, your attorney may need to hire experts to be able to present evidence that may be critical to getting the best possible resolution for you. Without expert testimony, some of this critical information may not be admissible under to the rules of evidence, which means the court would not lawfully be allowed to consider it. Some experts, then, are critical to achieving the best possible resolution. However, experts cost money.
For example, depending on your situation, you may need to bring in accountants, child custody evaluators, appraisers, financial planners, insurance experts, business valuators, and bankers. Each of the experts will need to be brought up to speed on the particulars of your divorce, then analyze the information presented to offer a well-thought-out opinion. And for every expert you hire, your spouse will likely hire a similar expert whose job it will be tell the court why your expert is wrong!
4. Arguments Cost Money
The more you and your spouse can agree on, the less money you will spend. Of course, you’re getting divorced for a reason, so some amount of acrimony is to be expected. But too many clients come in looking for an overly-aggressive attorney. The ones who market themselves as “aggressive” or “bulldogs.” While that kind of lawyer may initially seem appealing, in the long run, these kinds arguments will cost more money.
A more contentious divorce means more motions and court filings, more time your lawyer will spend in court, and more time on the phone with opposing counsel. Viewing the divorce process as a final chance to right old wrongs by fighting over every little detail only results in higher legal bills, as your attorney will spend more time arguing over frivolous things. All this time costs money.
Understand that your time in court is not the time to air every bit of dirty laundry. Rather, the court is there to make difficult decisions for people when they cannot make them for themselves. The court is an arbiter – it makes decisions for people who cannot come to a consensus between themselves.
Therefore, the more you and your spouse can agree on, the less expensive your divorce will be. Trial is the most expensive option. If you and your spouse can agree on most, if not all aspects of your divorce, the more smoothly it will go, and the less expensive it will be.
The ultimate divorce arbiter is a trial. Divorce trials occur when there are issues in the divorce that the divorcing couple cannot agree on. Trial, therefore, is the most expensive option.
If you need to take your divorce to trial, you want your attorney to be well-prepared. Understand, however, that your attorney can spend weeks preparing for trial. Writing numerous pre-trial motions and briefs. Strategizing over about the best way to approach each witness on direct and cross examination. Opening statements and closing arguments. The best way to present evidence. Anticipating evidence your spouse will try to offer. Any expert testimony that needs to be elicited. How to cross examine your spouse and your spouse’s expert witnesses. All of these strategic considerations take time, and that time costs money.
Finally, think about what you’re fighting over. Does it make sense to spend $1,000 arguing over who gets to keep a $500 table? Probably not – unless you’re arguing over personal property like family heirlooms. Otherwise, save the $1,000 and go buy a new table.
Always remember, the cheapest attorney is usually not the best attorney. Saving money on an attorney that isn't familiar with family law will cost you more in the end. How much do you value having the best parenting plan for your kids? Having the correct child support? Having alimony paid for an extra few years? How much do you value not having to go back to court to fix things that were done wrong the first time.
Divorce is a difficult process. Without careful thought about your objectives, costs can quickly spiral out of control. If you're considering a divorce but are concerned about the cost, contact me at Jody Fisher Law today for a confidential initial consultation. Call me at (352) 503-4111, or complete our online information form.