9 Steps to Keep Your Divorce Fees Down
In my 25+ years of mediating family law and divorce matters, I’ve seen thousands of divorces successfully complete. Some of my most complex marital estates manage to finish in a few months with only two or three, two-hour meetings while other less complex matters take three years or more and countless scheduled and delayed meetings, emails, and telephone conversations. As you’d imagine, the latter couples pay exponentially more in process and attorney fees.
Don’t get me wrong. In peacemaking the goal is never to shortcut the process. Sometimes, the additional and delayed meetings, phone calls, and discernment or healing time is not only valuable but necessary to the long-term success of the restructuring of the family. In some cases, couples delay in order to give their marriage one more try (which I always applaud). Other times, the additional time allows both parties time to educate themselves and fully digest what their best new future will look like.
When these couples ask (ideally at the onset of their divorce) what they can do to save money in the process, these are the nine simplest things I tell them (perhaps some of these will sound like suggestions from your family counselor):
1. Don’t be locked into one position or outcome and refuse to budge.
Recognize there are three ways to look at every situation. Your preferred outcome. Your spouse’s preferred outcome. And the outcome both can agree is reasonably acceptable. Being willing to consider your spouse’s needs will help de-escalate conflict and foster agreements (and save time).
2. Use ‘I’ statements when discussing feelings.
Avoid complaining, accusing, blaming, badgering, or making “you” statements before, during, or after meetings. The process of ‘venting’ takes time and sets meetings up as arguments verses productive exchanges of ideas and resolution sessions.
3. Be realistic about your budget & cash flow.
Your monthly expenses will increase by 30 – 50% after separating households. Housing costs, utility costs, separating phone plans, health insurance, etc., and higher income taxes filing as a ‘single’ vs ‘married’ and the loss of deductions will increase your monthly costs while your monthly take-home income might not see a comparable increase.
4. Understand your family financial report.
Invest in understanding your family’s current financial position. What is your monthly income? What are your regular and irregular expenses? Which income and expenses are necessary and which ones can be decreased or eliminated? What necessary sacrifices need to be made in the short- and long-term?
5. Ask for help when you are confused.
Nothing says ‘help’ better than asking for it. If you are confused, at minimum, let the professional in the room know it. Do you need clarification on a term or agreement? Don’t ever sign or agree until you feel confident that you fully understand what you are committing to. It will be far more costly (time and emotion) to go back, after the agreement is made and signed, and change the terms. Feel confident that if you have the question, it is worth asking. If after the fact you still have questions, consult with another professional before agreeing.
6. Don’t say “yes” when you mean “no”
This can be tricker than it sounds. If there has been a natural imbalance in the decision making in your relationship, you may be tempted to simply agree with your spouse in order to avoid conflict or criticism. If you are unsure, commit to saying so. If you need more time or information, say so. If you don’t agree and would like further discussion, request it. Better to spend the time now than later.
7. Don’t bring invisible, auxiliary advisors into the room.
We’ve all done this. We bring the ‘Greek Choir’ into the room. They can be your well-meaning family, friends, co-workers. They all have opinions about what you should do regardless of whether they have all the facts. Those ‘advisors’ can give you advice that keeps you locked into positions (see #1 above) which increases your time in meetings and conflict. These advisors can delay or even stop you from making win/win decisions which will benefits you in the long-term.
8. Keep meeting times and be prepared.
Delays are sometime unavoidable. When agreeing to completing tasks or scheduling upcoming meetings, be mindful of all that is required of you to ensure each meeting is productive. Come clear- headed, open-minded, alcohol and drug free, and ready to work.
9. Take care of your health!
As hard as it is for many of us, it is essential that during this time of particularly high stress, you make selfcare a priority. We all know the signs… restlessness, negative self-talk, sleep problems… if you’re experiencing these signs, recognize it’s normal and commit to doing something that makes your heart soar. Yoga? A long car ride? A ‘rom com’ or ‘action packed’ movie. As I’ve often reminded myself, ‘This, too, will pass’.
At Family Peacemaker, we are committed to helping you and your spouse through this life-changing time. Contact us to schedule a free, case assessment consultation. We are family law divorce attorneys specializing in mediation and collaborative family law in Orange County and the surrounding Southern California counties.