How to Keep Divorce Attorney Fees at a Minimum in USA?

Every divorce comes with a complex of emotional and financial issues. As if the emotional cost of a divorce was not enough, the financial expenses associated with the process appear enough to reduce anyone to a nervous wreck. And of the total cost of a divorce, an attorney’s fees usually make up the biggest chunk. Here are a few ways to keep your divorce attorney fees at a minimum.

  1. See if you can do without a lawyer.

    Not all divorces are full of acrimony. Often couples may decide to part on civil terms and may even agree on major issues like alimony, child custody or division of marital assets. At the same time uncomplicated divorces like those relating to short marriages or those without any kids may be easier to go through. If your divorce falls into these categories, attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement with your spouse on your own. Yet another way to go about this is to file the divorce yourself. In some states like California the do-it-yourself option is gaining increasing popularity. If interested, you can seek help at the pro-se section of your county Bar Association which will guide you on how to file the state-specific divorce papers in the family law department of the county courthouse. Such options will not only save on a lawyer’s fees but also spare you both the expense of a court ordered mediation.

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  2. Explore mediation.

    If you feel that you and your spouse cannot reach an amicable solution on your own, consider hiring a mediator. A mediator is someone who has been trained in conflict resolution and family law and can thus supervise negotiations of divorce settlements between the two parties. Mediation is a more economical option in cases when spouses broadly agree on major issues like child custody or division of marital assets. Even though a mediator’s hourly fees may not be lesser than a divorce lawyer’s, the fact that during a mediation spouses share the burden of basic paperwork and have a mutual understanding cuts down on a mediator’s billable hours and consequently his/her fees.
     
  3. Insist on a written fee agreement.

    If you and spouse must battle it out in the courts, it becomes necessary to hire a divorce lawyer. Attorney expenses usually include a retainer deposit charged at the beginning of the service as well as fees charged by the lawyer on an hourly basis. In United States, a divorce lawyer’s rates may range from $150 to $400 an hour, depending on the experience, location and reputation of the attorney as well as the degree of complexity of the divorce case. Before you hire a divorce lawyer, insist on a written fee agreement outlining the exact financial terms between you and your legal representative. Also clarify the specific nature and quantum of each charge that your lawyer may impose from time to time.
     
  4. Do your own groundwork.

    Living under the same roof as your spouse, you have the easiest access to his/her papers and documents. So before you announce your decision to walk out of the marriage, put this access to good use and gather information on any pension funds or separate investments that you have not been told about. Instead of hacking into your spouse’s computer, you could look through day planners or to-do lists for mention of financial decisions. Or pay closer attention to bills, receipts and bank statements lying around and perhaps to the contents of the trash bin too. The idea is not to pilfer or do anything illegal but just to accumulate information on your spouse’s finances which if you leave your lawyer to do, might lead to additional costs.


     
  5. Don’t speak to the lawyer right away.

    Once you have hired a divorce lawyer, you may be tempted to check with him/her on your case almost every day. This will not only hike your phone call costs but also shoot your legal consultation bills. Rather use your attorney’s secretary for minor matters like asking if your lawyer has got your fax or when is the next court hearing on your case. Staff bills are usually computed at a lower rate than an attorney’s and you may even find your lawyer’s secretary obliging you with information for free.
     
  6. Use online resources.

    Very often a lot of basic information on various aspects of the divorce process can be obtained free on the internet. There are many websites like divorceonline.com, divorce.com and completecase.com where you can not only gather background information on divorce laws but even download state-specific court forms and online divorce kits. On the other hand, if you depend on your lawyer to do all this, you are bound to be presented with a hefty sum as your attorney’s fees.
     
  7. Be prepared.

    Divorce is a harrowing time for the spouses involved. But don’t make that an excuse for arriving ill-prepared at an appointment with your divorce lawyer. Remember, your attorney will charge you by the hour and if you waste time during the appointment hunting for papers and documents, you will be shelling out money without it benefiting you at all.
     
  8. Consider why you want to meet your lawyer.

    The upheaval caused by a divorce has many sides to it – emotional, financial and practical. Many couples make the mistake of seeing their divorce lawyer as a combination of a therapist and financial expert besides their legal representative. If you want to get your feelings in control, see a therapist or if you want an appraisal on your house consult a real estate expert rather than rack up your billable hours with a lawyer.
     
  9. Finally

    Try to understand that hiring an attorney who charges less will not always help you save money in the long run. If you are contesting your divorce case over issues like division of assets, child custody and alimony, then in the end it will always pay more to hire an experienced but expensive lawyer rather than a cheap one.