4 Ways to Make Divorce Affordable
When contemplating a divorce, most people are concerned with the possibility of high financial costs. When we hear stories about the divorces of friends and relatives, steep legal fees can loom large in the conversation. However, not every divorce has to come with significant costs. There are many ways individuals can save during the divorce process; the key to cost-cutting during a divorce is to be pro-active.
1. Prepare Financial Documents for Divorce Meetings
While hiring a divorce attorney comes at a cost, it will help ensure the divorce achieves your goals. Do not make the common mistake, however, of thinking hiring an attorney means you need not invest substantial effort into the divorce process. If you want to save money during your divorce, roll up your sleeves and prepare to work.
One simple way to reduce attorney’s fees is to gather and organize your financial records. Courts require disclosure of all assets and liabilities on a Financial Disclosure Statement. The more complete and well-organized the records you provide your attorney, the less time he/she will need to spend preparing the Statement. For example, gather all life insurance policies and information, all bank accounts and balances, automobile values and loans, etc. Basically, if you, your spouse, or you jointly own it or owe on it, you should obtain a statement. Otherwise, your attorney will need to go through process of obtaining the information from your spouse (who may or may not be cooperative).
2. Know Your Divorce Priorities and Goals
An unfocused mind can burn through a lot of money in a divorce. Because divorce is a life-shifting event that involves difficult, powerful emotions, clients often have difficulty explaining to their attorney what they want from the divorce. Some divorcing individuals want the ability to move on and never look back, no matter the costs; some want the ability to retire in a few years; and others want to be able to feel comfortable with their former spouse at their children’s weddings no matter the compromise. Identifying your core priorities will help both you and your attorney work efficiently to achieve the most important goals while letting lower-priority goals take a back seat.
From a cost perspective, your attorney is NOT the best person to help you sort through your emotions during a divorce. While most divorce attorneys will be happy to discuss goals and priorities with you, you are probably better off working through complex emotions with a mental health professional, a clergy member or religious leader, or a close friend or family member. Investing time outside the attorney’s office to consider the impact your divorce will have on your financial, social and emotional life will help you crystallize your priorities and build a strong support network. With a well-thought-out vision, you and your divorce attorney can swiftly move through the legal process with confidence, and you can take ownership in the expediency of the process.
3. Understand Compromise as Pathway to Success
For some, the thought of compromising with a soon-to-be ex-spouse seems impossible. That is not a far-fetched notion: if a couple was able to compromise, maybe they would not be in the process of divorce! To achieve an affordable divorce, however, compromise is the only option because the alternative (going to trial) is certainly expensive.
Going to trial can sky-rocket the cost of divorce. The trial process slows any divorce to a crawl and more billable hours are accrued filing, contesting, or defending motions. In addition to increased costs, you inherently increase your risk when going to trial. Divorce cases rarely present black and white issues, and one is putting his/her financial future at risk by going to trial. It makes more sense for both parties to work together to reach a fair deal because they are the ones controlling their future.
Compromising is distinct from “giving in.” If the opposing party is relentless and unwilling to compromise, then going to trial might be the only viable option. In those situations, a client should keep in mind the earlier points of being pro-active, distilling goals, and fostering effective communication with their attorney. By utilizing these tools, the client and attorney can effectively navigate the hurdles of a trial and cut costs along the way.
4. Represent Yourself in Simple Divorces
Arguably the largest financial cost of a divorce will be attorney’s fees. Avoiding attorney’s fees is often a motivating force that pushes individuals to represent themselves (or appear pro-se). While many individuals take this route, it is inadvisable for marriages with more complex property, support, or minor children issues.
For marriages with only basic property arrangements or little income, successfully representing yourself can be reality. Over the years, Wisconsin counties have developed great resources to help pro-se individuals navigate the court system. For example, in Milwaukee County there is the Milwaukee Justice Center (MJC), which helps pro-se individuals complete all necessary divorce filings. All MJC services are free. Also, Milwaukee County Child Support Services offers resources and help for individuals receiving and paying support. The Wisconsin Law Library provides great guides and informational tools about divorce and its legal requirements.
Besides the court systems, there are private organizations offering help to pro-se litigants. Marquette University Law School hosts the Marquette Volunteer Law Clinic (MVLC). The MVLC allows pro-se individuals to sit down with an attorney and briefly discuss legal questions, like:
- How should you prepare for your divorce hearing?
- How should you plan your basic strategy?
- What does the law permit regarding your divorce options?
The University of Wisconsin Law School also has similar resources for those living near Madison. Utilizing public and private resources available to pro-se litigants can make navigating the divorce process achievable and affordable.
As with most endeavors, investing time researching and learning about divorce can save you a lot of money along the way. If you are serious about achieving an inexpensive divorce, it is well within reach. If you have questions about divorce and would like to discuss them with a knowledgeable attorney, please contact one the Hawks Quindel family law attorneys by calling 414-271-8650 in Milwaukee or 608-257-0040 in Madison.
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