Reduce Your Attorney Fees – Part III
When you hear stories of high profile divorce cases where the attorney’s fees rival the price you paid for your home, you can be sure of one thing: the divorce is a bitter one. But aren’t divorce cases inherently acrimonious? No. Certainly most of the divorce cases that make the news are dramatic; but divorce cases in general don’t need to be.
In addition to causing additional emotional pain, a rancorous divorce can cause the attorney’s fees incurred in a case to spiral out of control. Why? Because spouses frequently use the legal system to intentionally make their spouse’s life miserable. Of course, all this fighting costs money.
Having a civil divorce is easier said than done, right? Well, yes and no. There are many ways you can defuse the tension between you and your ex during the divorce process. Before you engage in an expensive tit for tat battle with your ex, consider the following.
1) Do I Need to Respond?
Individuals in a heated divorce case falsely believe they need to respond to everything that their spouse generates. Fred writes Wilma a ten-page (single-spaced!) letter stating every “mistake” that she made during their marriage. He copies his attorney on the letter. In Fred’s letter, he notes that Wilma forgot to pick up his favorite shirt at the laundry four years ago, and was “rude” to his friend from high school two years ago.
Naturally, when Wilma sees that Fred’s attorney was copied on the letter, she feels like she needs to respond. Her letter is equally long and now includes the many marital errors that Fred made including the time that he forgot their anniversary and called her by his ex-girlfriend’s name. Wilma then sends her attorney a copy of the letter she wrote, AND a copy of Fred’s letter, and asks him to tell Fred’s attorney to tell Fred to stop harassing her.
How did this transaction generate unnecessary attorney’s fees? Fred’s attorney charged Fred for the time it took him to review Fred’s letter (the attorney had no way to know that it was completely irrelevant to the legal issues in the case without reading it); Wilma’s attorney charged her for the time it took to read both letters, and the time it took to write a letter to Fred’s attorney asking him to tell his client to stop the letters, and then Fred’s attorney charged Fred for reading THAT letter.
When you see the transaction broken down, you can see how one seemingly harmless letter ended up taking up a lot of attorney time and generating unnecessary fees.
What should Wilma have done when she received the letter? Once she read it and saw that it was merely a rambling dissertation on their marriage, she should have stuck it in a file and not responded. If the letter contained something relevant to their case like a confession that he had squirreled away $100,000 in marital (or community) property in a Cayman Island account, Wilma should immediately contact her attorney. But where a letter merely vents about something that is irrelevant to the legal issues in a case, the best response is usually no response.
2) Do I Need to Initiate?
The flip side of the “Do I Need to Respond” coin is “Do I REALLY need to initiate?” Divorcing spouses frequently lose sight of the forest through the trees and think they need to go through their attorney for every issue that arises. This is not the case and it is an expensive way of thinking.
If there is an issue that you can work out with your spouse without your attorney getting involved, you should. This is especially relevant where young children are concerned.
Little Joey has a recital that you would like to attend, but it is not your night under the custody schedule? The first person you should contact in this situation is your ex-spouse, not your attorney.
Simply send an email stating that you appreciate the fact that the concert did not fall on your night, but that you would really like to attend. If you contact your attorney before your spouse, then it becomes an unnecessary time waster for your attorney, money waster for you, and makes your former spouse unnecessarily defensive.
3) Say “Yes” More Than “No”
In most cases, your willingness to be flexible on as many issues as possible (to the extent that it doesn’t hurt you financially in the long run and doesn’t have a negative impact on your children) will help you reduce attorney’s fees in the long run. The reason I say in “most cases” is because there are some cases where an “ex” is so irrational that saying “yes” will not diffuse their anger, and they will continue to take every opportunity to make your life miserable. However, in the vast majority of cases, your willingness to work with your ex on the issues relevant to the divorce (“sure you can have your great-grandmother’s quarter caret ring back” or “I would be happy to switch weekends with you so that you can bring the kids to your family work party”), goes a long way in reducing conflicts. Reducing conflicts translates to lower attorney’s fees.
Divorce is difficult enough without ending the process with a bill that will take months to pay off. If you follow the tips in this article, your attorney’s fees will be substantially reduced.
by Wendy Jaffe, ESQ.