Can I Really Get Divorced For $399 – How To Choose A Cost Effective Matrimonial Lawyer
Today, ads run rampant, promising a divorce for $399. Is such a thing even remotely possible? Probably not. For starters, court costs in New York State alone will exceed $300. However, you can obtain the forms needed to process an uncontested divorce at your local county clerk’s office or even more easily from the New York State Office of Court Administration website. So if you have no contested issues in your divorce, a cooperative spouse, and a willingness to deal with the paperwork, your total costs probably won’t exceed $400 (including subway or bus fares back and forth).
This article is for those of you who will need to hire a lawyer because you have
contentious matters, complex asset or child custody matters that require the expertise of a family law specialist, or you simply want someone to do the work for you. And if that’s your situation, it should come as no surprise that you’re unlikely to get much in the way of personalized service or representation for $399.
The good news is that if you’re prudent and reasonable (and have a spouse who will be too), it may be possible to secure a divorce without spending a fortune. By that I mean you can get the job done anywhere from $1,500 (in the simplest, most “no-nonsense”) to $10,000 (in a more complex situation). And yet, I cannot stress enough, keeping your spending within this range will only be possible if neither you nor your husband are uncompromising or bloodthirsty.
What follows is a list of dos and don’ts designed to get you there:
(1) Choose your attorney carefully.
Make sure it’s someone whose personality and demeanor match yours and who has the legal knowledge and acumen needed to tailor their recommendations to your needs. A lawyer may impress you with his or her personality, legal knowledge, rhetorical skills, or promises during an initial consultation, but if he or she cannot or refuses to listen to you, you will likely pay the price later.
(2) Maintain civil, even better, cordial communications with your ex-spouse.
Sometimes the only way to limit legal costs in a multi-issue divorce is to negotiate a deal directly with your spouse and then have lawyers draft a settlement. In any case, establishing a post-marital civil relationship with your spouse as early as possible, especially when there are children, can help facilitate compromise, reduce resentment, mitigate anxieties and, most importantly, mitigate legal costs.
(3) Be willing to compromise.
Parties often complain about their spouses’ inability to be reasonable, but they are just as often unwilling to compromise themselves. If you’re convinced that your settlement offer is so reasonable that no one can refuse it, you’ve either made too generous a first offer, or you’re not currently in a position to weigh the stakes in a balanced way. It’s probably the latter.
(4) Be aware of what is most important to your spouse.
That doesn’t mean you have to concede exactly what he or she wants. But accept the fact that an agreement will only be possible if you are flexible enough to be able to compromise on one or more issues that are critical to your spouse. At the same time, it is equally unrealistic to expect to prevail on every issue that you consider critical to you.
(5) Avoid the practice of racing at all costs.
In certain cases, it may be impossible to resolve an intervening issue that requires immediate attention without filing, such as issues such as temporary support or a spouse’s refusal to disclose critical financial information. In such a case, you will have no choice but to file an application with the court. However, if you must take this course, be prepared to incur legal fees that will almost certainly end up exceeding $10,000 (the cost of filing a single motion may be that much or more). And also keep in mind that if you go this route, you may elevate your case to such an adversarial position that the costs literally multiply.
(6) Never tell yourself that you would rather pay your lawyer than your husband.
You may end up paying for both. This is a tactic that only makes sense when your spouse’s expectations are high and unlikely to come down anytime soon. What’s more, the court may end up viewing you as the unrealistic party, in which case you may even be ordered to pay your spouse’s legal costs.
(7) Help your lawyer do his work for you whenever possible.
Most legal clients today are educated consumers who don’t need to be told it’s smart to help your attorney work more effectively for you. But if you’re someone who’s allergic to paperwork, pathologically disorganized, or just doesn’t want to be so directly involved in a painful ordeal, you’ll have to pay a premium. Virtually all divorce attorneys charge by the hour, and many areas of divorce practice are inherently time-consuming. On the other hand, if you spend hours explaining to your attorney something he or she may have understood from the documents, you will accomplish the opposite of your goals.
(8) Realistically estimate costs with your attorney on an ongoing basis.
To do this effectively, you will need to know both the scope and the underlying rationale for the steps your attorney is proposing to take. It is not enough to know that your attorney plans to begin preparing a summons and complaint. You need to know what this means and whether it will require a few hours or a few days of legal work.
(9) Do not litigate in matters relating to children.
If you cannot mutually agree on custody and visitation of your child(ren) with your spouse, you will have no chance of avoiding significant legal costs. This means that while your children are not at risk, if you want or need to control costs, you will have to compromise on the schedule and custody labels. This is not always easy advice to follow. Often, one or both parties mistakenly view parenting as a battleground for securing control or financial advantage over their spouse. If this is the case, it will be very difficult for you to avoid expensive litigation.
If you can avoid these nine pitfalls, you’ll have a good chance of not getting bogged down in legal fees, even if it doesn’t mean a $399 divorce.
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