How many stories have you heard about people spending mind-numbing amounts of money on legal fees in a divorce? It is no secret that if you are facing separation or divorce, you need an experienced Raleigh Divorce Attorney to represent you. The advice, guidance, case management and representation you receive from a good divorce lawyer is invaluable. The problem is that paying for that representation can be next to impossible for most people. Here are five ways to limit the sticker shock and handle your divorce in way you can afford.
- Choose the Right Attorney. Be careful what you wish for. Hiring a fire breathing, overly emotional attorney will cost you more and often lead to poor results. I believe that all Divorce Lawyers should aggressively represent their clients, however that trait can be dramatically over sold. All divorce attorneys are aware that many people facing divorce are in a vulnerable and emotional state. Many want some form of revenge or at a minimum to inflict some damage on their spouse. It’s human nature. Some divorce attorneys play into those emotions consciously or unconsciously in an effort to convince you to hire them and ultimately spend more money. Beware of the attorney that focuses too much on destroying the other guy and not enough on the results you actually want to achieve.Your divorce lawyer should counsel you not only on how to fight, but also how to avoid fighting if there are ways to get what you want without a nasty and expensive trial or court proceeding. In the end our clients will choose the path we take but know going in that the more you fight, the more you pay. Do not hire an attorney based upon whether or not they share your anger at your spouse because in truth, they do not. The fact is they represent people just like your spouse all the time, and if your spouse had consulted with them first they would be acting as though they were angry at you. Choose an experienced, measured attorney, with actual trial and negotiation experience who talks to you about achieving your goals both in and out of court. Your lawyer is there to help you make good decisions, not just decisions that feel good.
- Educate Yourself About the Law. This does not mean try to become a divorce lawyer yourself or regularly second guess your attorney’s legal opinions. What I mean is that you should learn the basics of divorce law so that you can understand in a basic way how it works. For example, Equitable Distribution (property division in North Carolina), means that, for the most part, property acquired during the marriage and prior to the separation is marital and subject to being divided by the Court between parties. This includes assets, debts, retirement and pretty much anything else you earned or acquired during the marriage (there are exceptions and there is much more to it, but this is the basic way it works). More often than not, the division is equal but can be unequal in some cases. Now, knowing that, you are less likely to insist that you receive 90% of all the marital assets(in terms of value) in order to settle your case and avoid trial. Additionally, you will know that if your lawyer is suggesting you go to trial with the hopes of receiving 90% of the marital estate, then he or she may be providing with you with bad and expensive advice. Of course other factors can give you more leverage or influence on how you handle one aspect of your divorce and in some cases such demands may be reasonable for example if you are waiving a valid alimony claim in exchange. The point however is that you really should learn enough about how divorce law works to gain a basic understanding and make solid, realistic decisions.
- Compromise Negotiating realistically and in good faith will save you money in almost every case. If you go into your divorce thinking it is your way or the highway on every subject, and believe that the Judge is going to rule in your favor on every count of every claim after you tell your story, then know at the beginning that you are going to be paying tens of thousands of dollars to your lawyer. I am in no way suggesting that you start “giving in” on important points as soon as any negotiations starts, but know that without some reasonable compromises, you are not going to settle anything and you will likely wind up in court. Sometimes the decision to go to trial is absolutely the correct one, however sometimes its necessitated by stubbornness, bad legal advice, anger, or a combination of all of these issues on one side or the other. Any good divorce lawyer will assist you in formulating a negotiating strategy that will achieve the reasonable goals you and your lawyer should work together to set. But just understand, if you insist on getting the better of your spouse on every single issue in negotiation, you are going to spend considerably more in legal fees, risk an unnecessary trial, and likely wind up in about the same place you would have been had you negotiated reasonably in the first place. Hire an experienced divorce attorney with a balanced approach, and let he or she guide you with regard to what is likely to happen if you were to go trial and work from that basis upward to get a good settlment, but avoid stubbornly sticking to unjustified and unrealistic demands (if the other side is being at all reasonable) as that will guarantee that you wind up in court and cause your legal fees to sky rocket.
- Budget Your Case. When you are researching divorce attorneys, should you favor one that charges say, $400 an hour versus one that charges $200? Surely the one that charges $400 is “better”? You would think so, at least in some way. The fact is that an experienced divorce attorney charging $400 is much less likely to be a poor or unqualified divorce lawyer, but does it matter if you really cannot afford this attorney? I have seen many clients who are left scrambling after their extremely expensive attorney withdrew from their case after plowing through a $10,000 retainer in a couple weeks of analyzing the case and in preliminary negotiations. It may be that if your case was fairly simple, another lawyer could have taken your case to trial or arbitration for a similar amount and you could have been finished. To put it another way, do not hire someone that you know you cannot afford, regardless of how good they may be. If a five or ten thousand dollar retainer was incredibly difficult for you raise, and you are not sure you will be able to raise another one, you really should think very carefully and discuss this fact with your attorney before you hire them. Most attorneys will be straight with you about how much your case is likely to cost, so have a frank, realistic discussion about your options and the best way to RESOLVE your case with the money that you have or can raise in the future. As a for over 14 years, I have learned to do some financial planning and budgeting with my client’s early in the process because what clients need is resolution above all else.
- Make Good Business Decisions. Divorce law typically involves any combination of three potential areas: alimony (spousal support), equitable distribution (property division), and child custody / child support. Two of the three are, at the end of the day and in the eyes of the law, about money more than anything else. These claims do not exist to alleviate grievances or make life “fair”, although fault and misdeeds do come into play in a limited way. The best way to think of alimony and equitable distribution resolutions is to consider whether or not taking a deal or going to trial makes economic and financial sense. Your divorce lawyer can advise you on the risks of trials, the various possible outcomes and the possible rewards of a favorable result in court. They should also provide you guidance with a range of how much you can expect it to cost you in legal fees. Then it is up to you to make an informed decision. Try to take emotions out of the equation as much as possible.For example, if your lawyer explains that an offer from your spouse amounts to a settlement of $100,000 for Equitable Distribution, and if you went to trial and the judge agrees with your evidence about value and classifications you could expect a judgment valued at $130,000, however if the Judge agrees with your spouse you can expect a judgment of $70,000. Your lawyer tells you that your trial would cost between $12000 and $15000 in attorneys fees. What do you do? Well, if your lawyer assures you that the case is a relative slam dunk and your evidence is far superior, then you would be justified in taking the risk and going to trial, as the probable net result would be $130,000 – $15000 in attorney fees, leaving you with $115,000. Better than the $100,000 offer. On the other hand, if they are not completely confident (which is often the case because you never know how a judge will rule on close issues), then you would have to consider the $100,000 a pretty fair offer that meets in the middle of the legitimately contested positions. If their offer was $75,000, your decision would be much easier of course with you being left with little choice but to go to trial. The party offering $75,000 in this scenario likely hired the feisty, angry divorce lawyer I outlined above in paragraph 1. Here you would really have to rely on your attorney’s advice as to the strength of each case, the possible outcomes and the estimate of cost. Naturally child custody issues are a completely different analysis, but you do have be realistic about what a judge is likely to do as well.
In any case, remember that court is never a sure thing, and while sometimes it is well worth the risk, you should always carefully consider all of the possible outcomes in deciding what to do.
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