There’s a certain irony to the business-side of being a divorce attorney. We are hired to resolve disputes over the terms of your divorce, so you can move on, but we profit the most from dragging disputes out.
What You’ll Pay
Statistics from Lawyers.com illustrate the issue. On average, an attorney that convinces a client to litigate their divorce to trial will bill $17,700 over a year or longer. Trials are rare though.
What’s more common is paying for litigation in $2-$5k increments until you grow frustrated with your legal costs and settle at mediation. On average, you’ll spend $10,400 in legal fees and expenses with this approach. In contrast, amicable divorces without litigation cost $4k or less.
The takeaway is this. Many spouses start a divorce wanting a judge to swoop in, take their side, and vindicate their perspective. It’s not going to happen. In almost all cases, you and your spouse, not a judge, will decide the terms of your divorce. Your issues will be resolved through negotiation with your spouse, not trial or litigation. The sooner you learn this, the less you’ll spend on lawyers.
So why not learn this lesson right from the start, skip litigation, and go directly to the negotiation where decisions are actually made? Litigators will argue the $10,000+ and a year of stress you invest in litigation will win you early victories that offer leverage in negotiations. Additionally, many spouses won’t negotiate until they get worn out in litigation first.
The contrary argument is that litigation is just an up-sell for the attorney. Lawyers advertise themselves as advocates rather than peacemakers to capitalize on irrational and angry spouses that will spend money fighting with their spouse. Often, the client thinks they are getting “legal advice” from their lawyer but they are actually getting a sales pitch for excessive litigation services.
For argument’s sake, lets say you believe in the more skeptical argument. You don’t trust lawyers and you don’t want to spend $10k on them. You are not alone. But you also can’t do it without us. Spouses that attempt a DIY divorce often end up regretting the separation agreement they signed for years, pay more in taxes and other fees due to a poorly-structured deal, and struggle to file for divorce correctly.
After all, the whole reason you are getting divorced is that you no longer get along. If you were able to negotiate a complex multi-year financial arrangement with your spouse without a lawyer, you probably don’t need to get divorced in the first place. The only way to avoid this fight is to give your spouse everything they want, a move you may regret for years.
King @ Law’s Approach
You can avoid unnecessarily padding the wallets of lawyers by using litigation only as a last resort after other efforts have failed. Before going down the warpath in court you should: (1) get objective advice from an attorney that does not do litigation and won’t up-sell you; (2) have a lawyer attempt to assist in negotiations informally; and (3) ask your spouse if they would be willing to opt-into mediation or arbitration.
If you and your spouse are able to negotiate or arbitrate an agreement, you can sign a negotiated separation agreement, rather than litigating for a court order. This can keep you in the under $4k category, even if issues are in dispute. Meanwhile, in most cases the divorce is resolved faster, with less stress, and less animosity with your ex and/or children.