Today there is a proliferation of advertising promising a $ 399 divorce. Is something like that even remotely possible? Probably not. For starters, in New York State alone, court costs will exceed $ 300. However, you can obtain the necessary forms to process an uncontested divorce at your local County Clerk’s Office or even more easily on the website of the New York State Office of Court Administration. So, if you have no disputed issues in your divorce, a cooperative spouse, and the willingness to do the paperwork, your total costs probably won’t exceed $ 400 (including the round-trip subway or bus fare).
This article is for those of you who will need to hire an attorney, either because
Disputed matters, complex assets, or child custody matters that require the expertise of a family law specialist, or you just want someone to do the groundwork for you. And, if this is your situation, it should come as no surprise that you don’t get much in terms of personalized service or representation for $ 399.
The good news is that if you are wise and sensible (and have a spouse who will be, too), you may be able to get a divorce without spending a fortune. By that I mean you could do the job in the range of $ 1,500 (in the simplest, most “undisputed”) to $ 10,000 (in a more complex situation) range. However, I cannot insist too much, keeping your costs in this range will only be possible if neither you nor your spouse are uncompromising or seeking blood.
The following is a list of dos and don’ts to achieve this:
(1) Select your attorney carefully.
Make sure it’s someone whose personality and demeanor match yours, and who has the legal knowledge and insight to tailor their recommendations to your needs. An attorney may surprise you with his personality, legal knowledge, rhetorical skills, or promises in an initial consultation, but if he is unable or refuses to listen, he will likely pay the price later.
(2) Maintain civil, even better, cordial communication with your ex-spouse.
Sometimes the only way to contain legal costs in a multi-issue divorce is to negotiate a deal directly with your spouse and then have the attorneys draft an agreement. In either case, establishing a postmarital civil relationship with your spouse as soon as possible, particularly when children are involved, can help facilitate commitment, reduce resentments, mitigate anxieties, and most importantly, mitigate legal costs.
(3) Be prepared to compromise.
The parties often lament their spouses’ inability to be reasonable, but just as often are unprepared to compromise. If you are convinced that your liquidation offer is so reasonable that no one could reject it, or you have made an overly generous first offer or are currently unable to weigh the stocks in a balanced way. It’s probably the latter.
(4) Be aware of what is most important to your spouse.
This does not mean that you have to give up exactly what you want. But accept the fact that an agreement will only be possible if you are flexible enough to be in a position to compromise on one or more issues that are critical to your spouse. At the same time, it is equally unrealistic to expect to prevail on all issues that you consider critical to yourself.
(5) Avoid practicing contradictory movements at all costs.
In certain cases, it may be impossible to resolve an interim issue that requires immediate attention without filing a motion, for example, issues like temporary support or a spouse’s refusal to disclose critical financial information. In that case, you will have no choice but to file a motion with the court. However, if you must take this course, be prepared to incur legal fees that will almost certainly end up in excess of $ 10,000 (the cost of filing a single motion could be as much or more). And furthermore, keep in mind that if you embark on this path, you can make your case in such a confrontational tone that the costs literally multiply.
(6) Never tell yourself that you would rather pay your attorney than your spouse.
You can end up paying for both. It’s a tactic that only makes sense when your spouse’s expectations are through the roof and unlikely to hit the ground anytime soon. Furthermore, the Court may ultimately consider you the unrealistic part, in which case you may even be ordered to pay your spouse’s legal fees.
(7) Help your attorney do your job for you whenever possible.
Most of today’s legal clients are educated consumers, who need not be told that it is prudent to help your attorney work more efficiently for you. But, if you are allergic to paperwork, pathologically disorganized, or just don’t want to get that directly involved in a painful test, you will have to pay a premium. Virtually all divorce attorneys charge by the hour, and many areas of divorce practice are time-consuming. On the other hand, if you spend hours explaining something to your attorney that he or she could have discerned from the documents, you will achieve the opposite of your goals.
(8) Realistically evaluate costs with your attorney on an ongoing basis.
To do this effectively, you will need to know both the scope and the underlying rationale for the steps your attorney proposes to take. It is not enough to know that your attorney plans to begin by preparing a Summons and Complaint. You need to know what that means and whether it will require a few hours or a few days of legal work.
(9) Do not litigate over child-related issues.
If you cannot mutually resolve custody and visitation of your children with your spouse, you will have no chance of avoiding substantial legal costs. This means that while your children are not at risk, if you want or need to control costs, you will have to compromise with scheduling and custody labels. This is not always easy advice to follow. Often, one or both parties mistakenly view parenthood as a battlefield to secure control or a financial advantage over their spouse. If this is the case, it will be very difficult to avoid costly litigation.
If you can avoid these nine pitfalls, you have a good chance of avoiding sinking into legal costs, even if that doesn’t mean a $ 399 divorce.