25 Secrets Your Divorce Lawyer Won't Tell You
Make sure you don't get bled dry by the fine print.
In the United States, your odds of getting married and staying that way forever are just about even. This divorce rate means that there's a lot of money to made in from working for clients who want to the best possible outcome from a parting of ways—and, consequently, there are a lot of attorneys who want to get at it.
When competing for new business, it may behoove lawyers not to impart everything that their schooling and experience has taught them to prospective clients. That's partly because some of what they know is not what a client wants to hear and painting an optimistic picture of the outcome can secure new business. What's more, they might know something that, if they shared it with a new client, could negatively affect their bottom line. Below are twenty secrets that a divorce lawyer may not want to share with you.
1. It's going to cost more than you bargained for
It's not always the case—but more often than not, the costs associated with your divorce will often be higher than your lawyer's original estimate. Contested divorces cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, though there are plenty of ways to limit the staunch the outward flow of cash before and during the process. A key part is to keep an open mind and focus on tomorrow's opportunities rather than yesterday's injustices.
2. That legal costs may compel you to live very frugally
No one wants to lead by asking you to make some dramatic cuts in your expenditure, but you would do well to take a long, cold look at your cash flow and think of ways to make some significant changes if need be. Seeing a big dip in the manner to which you've become accustomed is dispiriting, but it's better to temporarily cut corners in your lifestyle than be represented by a bargain basement lawyer who could miss opportunities in getting you a favorable outcome.
3. That you may have to accept responsibility for the divorce
Fault-based divorce is when one spouse committed an act that gives legal justification to the ending of the marriage. These acts include adultery, a felony conviction, cruelty, or desertion. If you are the spouse that committed one of these acts, it could have a negative impact for you on things like child custody and the division of property, depending on local laws. It's important to prepare for this scenario and attempt to determine all defenses available to you.
4. That you'll save money and heartache by being organized
Divorce lawyers often charge by the hour. If you take responsibility for being as organized as possible, not only are you likely to walk away from your marriage with a more acceptable outcome, you'll probably save some money too.
One of the best and simplest ways to do that is to start a divorce file. In this file, keep every bit of paper that could have an effect on how your divorce proceedings. Gather copies of all important financial documents and access to all account information. Keep it organized and easy to navigate. You're going to need it all.
5. That you should be wary of hearing too much "yes" too soon
Some lawyers are going to tell you what you want to hear, "yessing" you all the way to signing a retainer agreement. It may be that you have a very strong case, but there are no guarantees. Keeping this in mind will help you through this challenging process, spur you on to get organized, and retain a divorce lawyer who will candidly review your options and provide realistic probability of success based on the unique facts of your case.
6. That solo practitioners may not be able to give you the level of attention you expect from them
In any industry, the larger a company is, the bigger volume it's doing. Divorce law firms are no different, prompting many people to seek a solo practitioner who is more invested in the outcome of your case. Paradoxically, however, if the solo practitioner does not have adequate support staff in his or her office, your case may end up not getting the attention and care you were promised.
Be a proactive client to ensure that your case will not take a back seat to others, and that there will be appropriate staff members available to help when your attorney is busy with another larger and possibly more lucrative case.
7. That attorneys' fees are usually negotiable
This doesn't mean an attorney will always be willing to lower their fees, but they may at least listen to a request to lower their rate, particularly if you have a strong case. While most contingency fee structures are pretty standard, hourly rates, printing costs, and other fees are all on the table for discussion.
8. That you can perform much of your divorce pro se
If your divorce is contested then there's really no way to expect a good outcome without hiring an attorney. If, however, your divorce is uncontested, then you may be able to perform several parts of it on your own (or pro se which is a Latin term that means "for yourself").
An uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree child custody, spousal support, child support, visitation, and division of property. If you find that there is no need to fight over these things, you've already saved yourself thousands of dollars.
You may still decide to retain an attorney, but their role will be limited to the navigation of paperwork and court procedures. You may even be able to draw up your own separation agreement as long as the terms are fair to both parties though it's advisable to have some degree of professional help as you may be unwittingly waiving rights or obligating yourself to things you didn't foresee.
9. That it may be beneficial to come to an agreement with your spouse
While it may seem difficult, coming to an agreement with your spouse can alleviate a lot of the issues of divorce and it could also save a lot of ugliness down the line. If you have kids and common friends, it's likely that you and your spouse may be in each other's lives for years, even decades to come. Those interactions aren't going to be made easier if one or both of you hired some hard-nosed lawyers and caused each other pain. If you can work it out, you and your spouse can each part ways without feeling taken advantage of by the other.
10. That mediation can be a game-changer
Mediation is a process whereby you and your spouse sit down with a neutral third party to negotiate several important areas of divorce. It's a low-cost way to address practically any other disagreement you and your spouse may have. While the mediator's decision is not binding, it allows a neutral party to provide their perspective on how divorce related issues should be addressed. However, mediation can only be a useful tool if you and your spouse can come to an broad agreement.
11. That they are hoping you won't being poring over the details of their invoices
Generally, attorneys estimate how long it took them to do certain projects and it's difficult to call them out on it or verify the length of time they took to do something. Fees per page they print, fees per page they fax, fees for mileage to the courthouse, hourly rates for brief telephone conversations… It all adds up fairly quickly and they are banking on you not digging into the details.
12. That the divorce process should never be used for vengeance
One of the secrets that your divorce lawyer might not want you to know is that divorce proceedings are not used punitively. Sometimes, parties want to stick it to their soon to be ex-spouse as recompense for something they did. It's is important to try to look past feelings of vengeance in order to work out a fair separation between you and your spouse.
13. That he or she is more available than you're led to believe
"He's out of the office." "She's unavailable." "Can I take a message?" Your attorney is very likely in his or her office, but just don't want to talk to you. That could be because they are working on someone else's case, or maybe because they think you talk too much and keep them on the phone too long. But having a receptionist tell clients that their attorney is "not in the office" or "unavailable" is exceedingly common.
14. That "rock bottom" retainers can lead to more expenses
A not-so-fun fact: the initial retainer fee does not equate to the actual cost of handling a divorce matter. A retainer is only an initial advance on work undertaken by the attorney. Some lawyers will take advantage of a common misunderstanding that they are paying for the whole enchilada by trying to hook people with a low, low retainer fee, and then filling up your mailboxes with invoices once the time the retainer represents has been used up.
15. That aggressive attorneys can cost you more
In a contested divorce, it's understandable that people would want to seek out a lawyer who can aggressively fight for them in court. But an overly litigious lawyer and a good lawyer are not to be confused.
There is a time to negotiate toward a reasonable settlement and there is a time to dig your heels in. "Sharks" are hired to take the most irrational positions, even if it means making unreasonable positions. If the court feels that you and your counsel are making mountains out of molehills, you could wind up being responsible for your spouse's legal fees as well as your own.
16. That you should meet with other attorneys
One secret your divorce lawyer doesn't want you to know is that it is extremely beneficial to go multiple consultations. First, you want to meet with the most competent and experienced attorneys before your spouse does, which prevents them from hiring a great fit first.
If your spouse meets with an attorney first, it could create a conflict of interest that would not allow them to represent you. (Incidentally, this was a tactic that Tony used when mulling over divorce with Carmella in The Sopranos.) Secondly, attending several consultations can help you better understand the process, your rights, and help you to manage your expectations. Thirdly, meeting with several attorneys enables you to weed out the ones who aren't a great fit.
17. That you can change your lawyer at any time
There are several things to look for when choosing a divorce attorney. You want to choose someone who is experienced, respected, competent, and affordable. If they are proving to not be a good fit though, change them. Because you can, even if the reason is that you don't get on with him or her. Bear in mind however that if an attorney has worked on your case, you'll have to pay her/him for their time. Also, it might damage your case to change attorney's when you are close to a court ordered deadline, so only do it after careful consideration.
18. That flat-rate divorce fees can cost you dearly
We don't like hidden costs or being nickel and dimed, so it's understandable that we're intrigued by attorneys offering one low "fixed price" to handle your divorce from soup to nuts. It may be the case that you and your spouse weren't as at odds as you thought and could have parted ways with less work required. On the other hand, what you have to deal with could be way more work than the flat fee your attorney agreed to. When working for peanuts, lawyers are going to be less willing to go to bat for you.
19. That you should stay single
Depending on the family law in your state, if you have a relationship outside of your marriage during your divorce—regardless of when it began—can open up Pandora's box during the formal divorce process. In a state where this is an issue, any email, notes, computer records, phone calls, and other communication can be used in a legal proceeding in an at-fault state to prove infidelity. If you've already started a new relationship, consider putting things on ice until after the paperwork is complete.
20. That they may ask you to change your appearance for court
When you walk into his or her office, they probably won't to see your visible tattoo, pink hair, or ironic mustache. But if your divorce is contested, you're going to stand in front of a judge in order to decide outcomes. Attorneys know that while judges are required to remain impartial, they are human and come with their own prejudices, too.
When you walk through the door, he or she's not going to want to tell you to clean up your act, but if he or she deems it necessary, a good attorney is going to advise that you change up your appearance.
21. That you can draw up a final agreement before the endgame
"Divorce lawyers won't tell you that you can come to a full agreement in your case at any time," says divorce attorney Russell D. Knight. Instead, they would prefer to engage in the lengthy process of "discovery"—tallying debts and assets—before drawing up the final documents.
However, "there's no reason the divorce lawyer cannot start preparing all the final documents immediately," he says. Even if shortcomings remain, the structuring of the final plan outright can help litigants "focus on the [remaining] disagreements and unknown information." While it may be counterintuitive, he admits, the process is likely to go much faster as a result.
22. That your ex can pay your legal fees (in some cases)
It's always in a lawyer's best interest to prolong a divorce settlement; the longer it lasts, typically, the more payment they are due to receive. So yours might be unlikely to tell you that, in the case of a spouse who just isn't playing ball, a potential divorcee can petition a judge to pressure and compel an uncooperative partner to comply with the process.
According to the family law firm McCabe and Russell, a judge can enforce "participation in deposition or mediation conferences, impose additional sanctions to ensure compliance," and even "order that he or she pay additional attorney fees and court costs associated with the delays."
23. That you can stop proceedings even after filing
Just because you filed for divorce doesn't mean you need to go through with it. In fact, the process of reversing your decision—granted said decision comes somewhat early in the process—is as simple as going to your local courthouse and requesting the relevant documents, according to the experts at Legal Zoom. No explanation is needed as to why you decided to terminate the divorce.
24. That you probably won't get full child support
Despite any rosy picture you may have about child support payments, the fact is that most divorcees do not receive the full payments they're owed. According to the U.S. Census, only 43.5 percent of parents received full payments in 2018—and that's an increase over 2017 figures. Due to negligence and leniency, these figures remain stubbornly high despite legislation designed to combat them.
25. That custodial agreements don't need to be legal in nature
Having children together almost always makes a divorce more complicated. But legal intervention isn't always necessary. According to the U.S. Census, more than seven million parents nationwide have informal, non-legal custodial agreements with their exes. Of those, a full 38 percent listed their primary reason for doing so as: "Did not feel the need to make legal." And before you end your marriage for good, be sure you're aware of the 23 Ways Divorce Impacts Your Life That No One Tells You
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