As we’ve discussed in prior articles here, the COVID-19 crisis may have brought much of our society to a standstill, but the need for guidance and facilitation of divorces and other family law matters continues. And with many couples stuck inside together 24/7 in a challenging emotional and financial time, it will not be a surprise if the rate of new petitions for divorce rises during this time.
But, of course, obtaining effective legal guidance, representation, and other family law services does cost money, which is nearly always a concern when people divorce and thus are required to create a whole new financial picture for themselves, and this can be an especially daunting issue when people are out of work and our entire economy may be on the brink of a recession. To address those concerns, below are five tips for managing your divorce legal fees during the coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis.
Assemble a Comprehensive Collection of Your Financial Documents Now
You probably already know that finances are one of the most litigated issues in a divorce. But you may not have been the one in your marriage who generally dealt with your finances, or, even if you did, have not been great at keeping records.
Your attorney is going to initially look to you to provide the comprehensive set of financial documents needed to get a sense of what a fair outcome will be with regards to property distribution, spousal support, and child support in your divorce, whether that outcome is reached through settlement or litigation (or a mix of both). If your attorney has to repeatedly contact you about obtaining or understanding documents – or worse yet if your attorney has to take efforts to obtain them from the other spouse – this will cost you money in fees.
Go ahead and put together your family’s financial documents (to the extent you can properly access them) for at least the last three years. This includes all bank account statements, retirement account statements, brokerage account statements, tax returns, tax documents, credit card statements, mortgage documents, and any other financial document relating to an ongoing asset or debt. Organize them and even scan them in an easy-to-use format so that your attorney does not have to do extra work to understand and present them as needed.
Find a Reputable, Trustworthy Family Law Attorney
This may sound obvious, but it needs to be underscored. Working with a good family law attorney can pay for itself many times over, while working with a disreputable divorce lawyer can in some cases be even worse than the divorce itself. A good family law attorney will work to reach your best outcome in the most efficient manner. There is no “one size fits all approach”.
Personal referrals can be good, but a personal connection is not necessary to find a good attorney. Certainly google a lawyer to see what others have said, and peruse his or her website to see how they present themselves. Talk to the lawyer themselves and see whether you feel comfortable with their personality and approach. Choosing a good attorney is an art, not a science, but in any case take the time necessary to find one that you trust to manage your case in an economically efficient manner.
Make the Most of Your Consultation Time With Your Attorney
For all of the concern that people have about high legal fees, a leading reason why such fees are sometimes higher than they need to be is that family law attorneys often find themselves saying the same thing to clients over and over again, such that a conversation that only needed to happen once can happen three or four (or many more) times.
When you consult with your attorney, focus on what they are telling you and on what they are instructing you to do. If your attorney gives you an answer on a given issue, write it down, absorb it, and avoid the temptation to return to that issue hoping for a different answer over and over again. If your attorney asks you for your Visa bills for the last 24 months or for you to provide them with an account of every parent-teacher conference that the other parent has missed, get to work and provide it to them as the attorney has instructed. You have a part to play in your own case, and, the more efficient you are, the more efficient your attorney can be.
Focus on Reaching Agreement, Not Righting Emotional Wrongs
Similarly, your attorney will probably have a conversation with you at the outset discussing what a divorce can and cannot do, and thus what information about your marriage is relevant and what is not. The number one irrelevant topic in the legal portion of your divorce is all of your spouse’s emotional shortcoming and wrongs (aside from issues such as abuse).
A common way that clients can run up their own bills is to ignore their attorney’s advice to focus on relevant issues and instead have their attorney spend time on non-legal issues, even if this is simple as having long phone calls with your attorney to tell them about every insensitive thing your spouse has ever done. It’s natural to want to vent this way, especially to an attorney who is trustworthy and is a good listener and who is on your side, but it is not a good way to keep your bill low. Instead, focus your energies on reaching a settlement agreement with the other party, which is the best way of all to keep costs down. As an adjunct to your attorney, work with a competent therapist. You need an “A-team” especially while grappling with the trauma of divorce while the world copes through a pandemic.
Consider Online Mediation
Reaching an agreement may sound difficult and even painful, but mediation is a time-proven method to help divorcing couples move past their emotional frustrations with one another to reach agreement on the issues that will be necessary to finalize the divorce: property
distribution, spousal support, child support, and custody/visitation. By mediating you can potentially avoid extended back-and-forths between attorneys, contested hearings on temporary orders, and ultimately an expensive trial.
You can even mediate your divorce online – without ever having to leave your quarantined/safer at-home abode – meaning that, not only do you not have to be in the same room as your spouse when working towards an amicable resolution, you can maintain social distancing and move forward with your life even during these challenging times.
Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.