Many spouses cringe when contemplating a divorce. They’re not bothered by the process, how it’s going to affect their spouse, or even how the children may be impacted (though these are all good considerations), but rather, they are deadly afraid of attorneys’ fees. And, this is all for a good reason. Attorneys’ fees have plagued and clogged the divorce process for years and there’s no end in sight. So, how do we fix that?
Many lawyers would insist that there’s no fixing the fees issue. Fees, they say, not only fairly compensates lawyers, they also act as a brake or barrier from spouses turning their case into something far worse than it needs to be. I say, “horse hockey.” Having done a few divorces, I find that a reasonable client, will remain reasonable no matter the fees. Lowering my hourly rate never appeared to fuel litigation or make the case worse. To the contrary, its a client with emotional issues make the case bad, no matter the cost or how the case was billed. So, the real issue (should I say problem) is that many divorce lawyers don’t differentiate between reasonable spouses from the crazy ones. But, there’s hope.
These next 5 tips will help guide you through the lawyer selection process to better help you find the affordable divorce:
1. Completely avoid someone that just dabbles in a divorce. Using a friend of the family, is just fine, so long as that attorney does nearly nothing but divorce. Many areas of law have a “one size fits all” style of billing practice, and that’s not what you need or want when entering a divorce process. Divorce lawyers know that that when a spouse is contemplating a divorce, there are usually financial constraints involved. Divorce lawyers will work with their client to both provide representation, and to ensure payment (at some point in time) in a manner that’s reasonable.
2. Ask your lawyer for a lower retainer than they would typically demand. Retainers are arbitrarily set by the lawyers. It’s really just a measure of how much your lawyer doesn’t trust you to pay on your balance in the future. If the lawyer feels that you are high risk, the retainer goes up. With someone that looks like they can afford a divorce, the retainer goes down. If you’re having financial difficulties and still want a divorce, your attorney should be willing to lower the retainer to $500 (or around there).
3. Ask your lawyer, if they will accept a payment plan on the balance that accrues. Many clients never ask this pivotal question. Some lawyers are really good about this, and will readily accept a payment plan on accrued balances. Other’s simply don’t want to be bothered. When a spouse is first looking to hire a lawyer, this is yet to be an issue, so it’s rarely discussed. It’s better to bring it up now and clear the air than wait until your lawyer is about to drop your case for non-payment.
4. Hire a large divorce firm. While there’s something personal and warm about using a solo practitioner, using a larger firm could save you significantly. Many firms, like my own, have graduated hourly rates. So, my hourly rate could be twice as much, sometimes more, than a lawyer will lessor experience. (so make sure you ask about graduated rates). Hire the new lawyer and your hourly rate drops significatly. While many want more seasoned attorneys, many spouses don’t realize that there’s almost nothing the new lawyer does in a divorce that isn’t scrutinized, controlled, and dictated by that lawyer’s superior in a larger office. So, you’re getting all the strategy and know-how of the higher rate lawyer, on the cheap.
5. Offer up a co-signer. If you’re facing financial difficulties, many lawyers will extend credit so long as payment is assured without the risk of a bankruptcy. By offering a co-signer to guarantee payment of the fees, the more likely a lawyer will accept the case. Be mindful that not all co-signers are alike. Bringing in a co-signer that is also on the verge of financial collapse will likely not work. The ideal co-signer will own real estate or something of significant value, where the lawyer will be comfortable in extending credit.
Always be mindful that lawyers are hesitant to extend credit. Your mission should be to find the lawyer that can balance the necessity of payment with the understanding that divorces are terribly expensive for spouses. Somewhere between a draconian collection practice and your ability to pay is the right lawyer for you.