6 ways to save money on your divorce
1. Understand the Written Fee Agreement
Nearly all experienced and effective family law lawyers charge by the hour and collect an advance retainer (or deposit) that is paid at the beginning of the case. Often times, divorce attorneys in Michigan charge minimum retainer fees. Fees and expenses will be charged against the deposited retainer until it is exhausted, at which point the client is normally responsible for any additional fees or costs incurred.
Clients will sometimes look for a family attorney who will represent them on a flat fee basis, thinking that this will save them money. The problem with this arrangement is that the attorney has no incentive to do anything beyond the bare minimum. The client often feels like his case is being ignored, the attorney often feels like the client is intentionally trying to take up as much of his time as possible, and they may both be right. It is fair for a Michigan divorce attorney to be paid for the work done on a case, much like other professionals are compensated. Charging by the hour is the most common way that divorce lawyers in Mid-Michigan work for their clients. This applies to family law attorneys in Lansing, Eaton County, Clinton County, Ingham County and Ionia County. Divorce lawyers in Gratiot County and in Barry County use similar types of fee arrangements.
Whether you hire a lawyer on an hourly or flat fee basis, it is extremely important that you get a written fee agreement that makes clear the terms of the representation, including whether any retainer is refundable, how often you will receive statements, the attorney’s hourly rates, etc. You should understand the minimum charges for phone calls, letters and for e-mail communications. You should get and keep a copy of this fee agreement. It is important that you understand the agreement. Most divorce lawyers will not be offended if you ask questions about their fee agreements in order to avoid confusion later on.
2. Don’t Mistake Your Divorce Attorney for Your Therapist
Divorces are extremely emotional. Because your divorce attorney is (or at least should be) firmly in your corner, talking to him can be a very reassuring experience. If your lawyer has handled many, many cases, they understand your side of the situation and it feels good to talk to someone who sees the righteousness of your position. Because it makes you feel better to speak with your divorce lawyer, you get into a habit of calling or sending e-mail often, sometimes almost daily.
Unless you have more money than you know what to do with you should NOT fall into this trap.
Remember that every time you call your lawyer the clock is running and you are getting billed by the hour. Think of it as a very expensive cab ride. As soon as you get in the cab, the meter starts running. It works the same with a family law lawyer. As soon as you are on the phone with him or her, the meter is running and you are getting charged. Remember that the only thing that lawyers have to sell is their time and advice. This is how Michigan divorce attorneys make their living – – – selling their time and advice (just like doctors do.)
This does not mean you should never communicate with your attorney. On the contrary, you should communicate with your divorce lawyer anytime you need legal advice on your case. But before you pick up the phone make a list of questions or issues you want to discuss and limit your conversation to these points without wasting time ranting about the unfairness of the situation. Our family law attorneys also respond to e-mail inquiries, questions and problems from our clients.
3. Don’t Use Your Divorce Attorney to Negotiate or Divide Personal Items
Arguing about which party deserves the green chair, the lamp in the den, the blue sheets or the toaster oven is a waste of attorney’s fees. You should try to resolve these issues with your spouse if at all possible. Ideally, if you and your spouse have already separated, you could divide these items by agreement and exchange them before the case has been completed.
Then (when it is time to finalize the divorce) the provision in the final divorce agreement (which Michigan courts call your Judgment of Divorce), would simply indicate that each party keeps all personal effects (furniture, clothing, electronics, appliances, kitchen equipment, etc.) in his or her own possession. This can save a great deal in fees by avoiding debates over property that has very little market value. If you and your spouse can agree about how to split the bills, you will likewise be saving attorney fees. You will want to speak with your divorce attorney briefly to get an overview about dividing marital assets and debts in a divorce case in Michigan.
4. Don’t Throw Away Dollars Trying to Save Nickels
This is extremely important. People will often be very frugal about hiring an attorney and think they are saving a lot of money by hiring a lawyer for a small flat fee or by hiring someone who is inexperienced but will work cheaply.
This is a mistake.
Your goal should be to reach a reasonable settlement as quickly as possible. In order to reach this goal you will need an effective lawyer who sincerely shares that objective with you. That lawyer will then use his experience and skills to help you reach that objective. But notice the phrase “reasonable settlement”, not just any settlement. If the other side cannot be convinced to settle the case on reasonable terms it is very important that your lawyer have the skills and confidence to effectively try your case. An attorney who is learning on the job, or is simply unprepared, can cost you a great deal of money. So don’t cheat yourself out of dollars in an attempt to save nickels. Hire the very best divorce lawyer your can afford. You’ve probably heard it before: You often get what you pay for.
5. Don’t think the divorce case is a way to get even with your spouse.
Judges in and around Lansing and Mid-Michigan have very little patience with parties using the family courts as a way to try and get even with their spouse. Good lawyers with extensive experience tell this to their clients. The issue of fault in the divorce case is not one that usually plays a huge part in the judge’s final decision in a divorce case. Judges frown on vindictiveness, attempts to punish the other spouse or people that drag the spouse into court for no reason. Our judges are too busy to deal with the emotional side of divorce but they (as well as experienced attorneys) do understand that divorce is an emotionally traumatic time. Increasingly, our courts are looking at failed marriages in the same way they would view a failed business – – – split up the assets and split up the debts and let everyone move on. Good lawyers will be able to help you find a well-regarded therapist to assist you in working through this very difficult emotional stage in your life. The lawyers office and the courtroom are not therapists. Attempting to involve lawyers and judges in the emotional side of a divorce is a waste of your valuable money.
6. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Can you imagine what would happen if you had a very severe pain in your stomach and you went to the doctor’s office? Suppose that you told the doctor that your ankle was causing you terrible pain. The doctor would likely focus all the attention on your ankle and ignore your stomach. Chances are that you will have wasted your money on that doctor because they wouldn’t deal with your stomach pain since you weren’t honest with the doctor. Family law attorneys are the same. If you don’t tell us the whole truth, chances are we won’t do our jobs for you properly. We don’t like to learn new things late in the divorce process or by accident. That is a horrible waste of our time and your money. Every divorce lawyer wants to know the good and the bad about their client. We want to know about ALL the dirt, ALL the bills, ALL the assets and everything else relevant to your case. If a client is less than fully honest with a family law attorney, they are costing themselves too much money in attorney fees.