Divorce Advice (And It Won’t Cost You a Thing)

Divorce Advice

Divorce can be costly, as most people know, with each side expected to spend, on average, $15,500, during the process, according to Nolo, a publisher of legal books and software. Many spouses spend a whole lot more.

The bulk of these expenses are for lawyer fees, which are typically around $250 an hour, but can easily run as high as $900, or more. And as Brendan Hammer, a partner in Berger Schatz, a prominent matrimonial law firm in Chicago, notes, “We get paid win, lose or draw.”

But he and other family lawyers say there are ways to keep costs down, and maybe minimize your heartache, too. Here is some of their advice — right now free of charge.

Choose the right course.

Opting for arbitration, collaboration or mediation may help you avoid the costs of a lengthy court battle, but each of these paths has its pros and cons. A lawyer can point you in the right direction, but be sure you agree on the path.

Morgan Stogsdill, a partner in Beermann, a Chicago law firm, often advocates mediation, where a neutral third party helps a couple work through issues and come to a resolution. (In arbitration, a third party arbitrator makes the final decision.) But Ms. Stogsdill acknowledged that mediation doesn’t always work out. She once mediated a case for two years before it came to a halt and ultimately ended up in court. Your lawyer has to be ready to change tack, she said, if things go south.

In a collaborative divorce, both parties commit to creating a shared agreement. They may share a financial expert (called a financial neutral) or a divorce coach in the collaborative process.

This approach comes with an effective incentive, but also a harsh penalty for failure. “If you get stuck, the case restarts but with new representation,” Ms. Stogsdill said. “It’s a costly do-over, so be realistic upfront about whether you can truly work together.”She also cautions against lawyers who come out with “guns blazing,” even if there might be cause for a showdown. And — though it may sound crazy — if your soon-to-be ex has already hired a lawyer and you’re still looking, she recommends asking the other lawyer for a referral.“We are committed to the best deal for our clients but a good working relationship with the other counsel saves everyone time and money,” Ms. Stogsdill said.

Spend wisely and talk freely — to someone else.

“Lawyers are not therapists, plus they are way more expensive,” said Gabrielle Hartley, a lawyer based in Northampton, Mass., who is also a divorce coach and the co-author of “Better Apart: The Radically Positive Way to Separate” (Harper Wave, 2019).

A therapist’s hourly fee typically is between $120 and $250, yet many people use their lawyer, who may charge twice that amount, to complain and lay blame.

Source: New York Times