So if you are reading this blog, and you haven’t hired an attorney yet, then I won’t go into the many reasons why you should use my services to settle your divorce affordably. You can read about those many reasons on my website and by reading and watching my other blogs. Hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst is the best advice I can give you on how to save money in your divorce and how to avoid high attorney fees.
But……if it’s necessary for you to hire a family law attorney, or you didn’t find out about my services until you already have, let me share with you how you can save money in the divorce process.
Hire a CDFA, regardless. OK I know this is self-serving, but a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can and should handle the financial aspects of your divorce, and can do it more knowledgeably, thoroughly and affordably than your attorney or their staff. For instance, one of the first things your attorney will want is a Financial Affidavit from you where you provide your income and expenses and your assets and liabilities. It’s important this document is correct, because it is the basis on which your support payments and asset division will be determined. I can help you make sure your budget is thorough and your affidavit is accurate. I can also check to see if I can find errors in your spouse’s Financial Affidavit. For instance, in the case of employee income reported on a W-2, often income can be incorrectly reported by counting the wrong number of pay periods or deducting too much in taxes. Sometimes items deducted from a paycheck get double counted. I can check for those types of common errors.
Be thorough and organized when you gather and provide documents. You don’t want to pay someone to wade through a disorganized mess. Put them in a binder and provide an index. Attorneys need to inventory all incoming documents and usually will want an index as well. Also, ask if you should provide hard copies of documents, copies in PDF form, or both. You don’t want to pay a professional for the job of scanning documents. Save yourself a lot of money and perform this sweat equity yourself.
Strongly consider the hourly rate you will be paying. Weigh the hourly billing rate of the attorney you choose vs. the complexity of your case and/or what you will realistically get out of your settlement. Some attorneys have high hourly rates because of a specific sub-specialty. If their specialty is child custody for instance, but you are seeking alimony, their fee may not justify the particular work they will be doing in your case. Sometimes the most expensive is not always the best and if your case is not complex, hire an attorney with both a good reputation and a lower hourly rate. Ask what the hourly rate is before your consultation.
Negotiate your retainer. Sorry to say, some lawyers have non-refundable retainers. If you and your spouse are able to settle quickly, you won’t get that unused portion back. If your attorney leaves the firm you hired, you also may not get your retainer back. This actually happened to someone I met. The purpose of a retainer is to be assured of payment for work performed. They should not get paid for work they do not do. Don’t be afraid to talk about how their retainer works in detail.
Ask for a cost-benefit analysis. If significant amounts of financial documents need to be reviewed, a CDFA may be able to handle it much more affordably. However, don’t be afraid to discuss the cost vs. benefit with your attorney and ask whether the analysis can be done in stages, with the findings discussed before proceeding to the next step. For example, there is little point in proving an accustomed standard of living (known as a lifestyle analysis) before you know (or think you can prove) that there is money to support your prior standard of living.
Ask for mediation early. In North Carolina, the court will require mediation before child custody and equitable division trials. Save yourself a lot of fees and try to mediate early in the process. A mediator can use their trained skills to bring up issues that are preventing settlement and help find solutions that parties can agree upon. Better yet, instead of attorneys, consider using both a CFDA as a financial neutral and a mediator when there is acrimony that prevents you from negotiating and/or settling,
Don’t use your attorney (or your CDFA) as a therapist. This one is obvious.
Call the secretary. If you have a question that is not legal, ask the secretary. Attorneys and their paralegals charge for all contact with you.
Don’t think an email or a quick phone call won’t get billed. Attorneys and paralegals charge in 10 or 15 minute increments, so that email that they read in two minutes could cost you $50.
Ask for a monthly billing statement. Not only can you see where your money is going, but what they are doing and how your case is progressing. That might help you avoid a phone call or email to your attorney.