As a lawyer, I have heard my fair share of jokes about my profession. Many of them pertain to how much we charge such as:
Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a boxing referee?
A: A boxing referee doesn’t get paid more for a longer fight.
Q: What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer?
A: A bad lawyer makes your case drag on for years. A good lawyer makes it last even longer.
Fortunately, I can laugh at these jokes and brush them aside. I understand that the public has this general idea that lawyers drag matters on for a long time in order to get paid more. It doesn’t help that the perception is sensationalized through news articles and social media on a weekly basis with headlines about large corporate lawsuits or celebrity divorces. Regardless of the circumstances, the general public concludes that the attorney was paid large sums of money.
I bet if you asked anyone who has gone through a divorce, the majority of the people would say their divorce lasted way too long. Rarely do divorces conclude in less than six months. Don’t get me wrong, it can happen when both parties are on the same page and have discussed proposed settlement extensively prior to obtaining attorneys. However, these cases are rare.
So, why do divorces drag out so long? And more importantly, why do they seem to cost so much? I will highlight nine key reasons:
The parties are combative at every stage of the proceeding.
This is probably the number one reason why a divorce takes too long and can be so expensive. When parties cannot agree to anything, the cost of the divorce increases because most attorneys will charge for preparing an email or letter to address the issue the parties disagree about. I had one client who wanted the parenting time exchange to be 4 p.m. The opposing party wanted the parenting time exchange to be 6 p.m. They could not compromise to 5:00 p.m. Both parties spent a lot of money on this one small issue. I tell clients to pick your battles. There are some issues not worth fighting about. Some clients will argue a position based upon “principle”. I emphasize with my clients that taking a position solely based upon principle will be expensive.
Having an unrealistic position/goal.
Taking an unrealistic position is sometimes closely intertwined with being combative at every stage. However, this is not always the case. A party may take an unrealistic position on one singular issue. When a party has an unrealistic position, negotiating becomes very difficult. As a result, the only option is taking the matter to trial and allowing the Court to decide the issue, an expensive consequence to taking an unrealistic position.
Being nonresponsive in the proceeding.
This has to be one of the most frustrating occurrences, yet the simplest to remedy. When a party is nonresponsive, it only drives up the cost of the divorce because the attorney has to repeatedly send emails or letters addressing the issue that is not being responded to. When my own client is being nonresponsive, I will have a frank discussion about the impact and consequences it will have on his/her case. Most notably the consequences may be having to pay for the other party’s attorney’s fees and losing credibility with the Court.
The attorneys take unrealistic positions and are argumentative.
There are some attorneys that earn the reputation of a “bull dog”. These attorneys won’t negotiate and will take unrealistic positions. They are unprofessional with the other attorney, often times belittling him or her. Unfortunately, their behavior only affects the clients because the case becomes overly contentious. The attorneys can’t agree over simple issues such as engaging a neutral. It is the job of the attorney to advocate zealously for their client, but it can be done with professionalism and respect for the other attorney. It is my goal in every case to be professional and respectful while advocating for my client’s position. I try my best not to engage in another attorney’s negative behavior.
Lack of knowledge about finances.
A spouse’s lack of knowledge of the marital finances or limited access to financial information may increase the cost of the divorce. It is essential for both parties and the attorney to have information about the parties’ assets and debts in order for the attorney to advise a client about division of property and settlement agreements. In order to obtain this information, formal discovery may be served. Formal discovery may be necessary because the party responding to the formal discovery is stating under oath that the information provided is to his or her best knowledge. Preparing formal discovery is not costly, but responding to and reviewing formal discovery can be. When one party does not have full knowledge of the marital finances, however, it may become a necessary expense.
The parties have complex financial issues.
If there are complex financial issues involving businesses, stock options or real estate, then financial experts will need to be engaged and business valuations and appraisals will most likely need to performed, adding cost and time to the divorce proceeding. These are all additional costs above and beyond the attorney’s hourly fee, yet necessary to help resolve the financial issues in mediation or at trial.
Complex custody issues.
Like complex financial issues, if custody disputes involve complex issues such as allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse or emotional abuse, a custody evaluation will likely be ordered. A custody evaluation can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 depending upon the evaluator engaged by the parties. There are many custody evaluators who will charge less than $5,000, but a thorough and experienced evaluator will cost more. In addition to the expense, given the complexities of the custody issues, the evaluation may take three to six months to complete.
One party has real mental health issues.
I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many times I have heard from my client that their spouse is “crazy”. Most of the time it is said purely out of frustration and I am sure we can all relate. However, there are cases where one spouse has a real mental health issue, making the divorce much harder to resolve. Trying to negotiate a settlement with someone who may be bi-polar, a narcissist or suffering from depression and/or anxiety makes negotiations especially difficult. A spouse’s mental health may affect their ability to respond in a timely manner or make it hard for the person to make simple decisions such as engaging a neutral. Often times the mental health issues causes the spouse to take unreasonable positions or become combative at every stage of the dissolution proceeding. As a result, the spouse without any mental health issues ends up spending financial resources to prove the accusation is wrong. This can be both emotional and financially draining.
Refusal to listen to the advice of the attorney.
With social media, the internet and friends who have gone through a divorce, some clients will think they know better or more than their attorney. While I admit researching things on the internet myself, I don’t rely solely on what I read as my sole source of expertise. And neither should clients when it comes to their divorce. Every divorce is different (yes, there may be similarities) and clients may have different goals. Many times clients will make decisions based upon emotions or principles rather than logic or reason. Recently I had a business owner client who was frustrated and threw up his hands, declaring, “I’ll just go to trial”. While trial would benefit me financially, I knew it would be foolish for my client. I utilized my boardroom analysis by stating, “Imagine you are in your board room with the other executives and you are presented with the same facts. Would you make the same decision?” Every time I utilize my “boardroom analysis” example, my clients grumble and say, “You’re right.” If you have hired a good attorney, listening to her or him is one of the best ways to help keep your divorce fees down.
Before you file for a divorce, be prepared and make sure you have a full understanding of the process. Keeping these nine divorce cost drivers in mind is critical to keeping your divorce fees down and moving forward to a better place in as little time as possible.