Divorce costs more than you expect
Nowadays, the average contested divorce in the US costs between $15,000 and $30,000. There’s a fair chance this is not only more than you were expecting, but also more than your attorney might estimate. Bottom line: expect to pay out more than you’re told, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.
You may need to accept responsibility for the separation
A fault-based divorce is where one spouse committed an act that entitles the other to end the marriage. This might include cruelty, adultery or a felony conviction. It’s not nice to know that you’ve done something that entitles your spouse to end the marriage but it’s usually sensible not to quibble and instead to focus on potential defenses, especially if you’re including child custody.
Custodial agreements don’t have to be legal
It’s not always necessary to go to court to hammer out custody arrangements over your kids. If you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse can agree, you can work out the details yourselves, and it doesn’t need to be a matter for your attorneys.
They’ll want you to disclose all your assets
Your attorney may not make a big deal of this in your initial meetings, but they will want you to disclose all of your assets as part of the the divorce process. This even includes assets that might have nothing to do with your estranged spouse. Bear in mind that, if called to attention, your lawyer and the court will take a dim view of any attempts to hide assets.
It’s down to you to be organized
Most divorce attorneys keep racking up the fees for as long as the process lasts. In this respect, they have little incentive to wrap matters up swiftly – although they should do so out of professionalism. Instead, the onus is really on you to expedite matters. You can do so by being as organized as possible when it comes to paperwork and meeting deadlines.
Hearing “yes” a lot isn’t always a good thing
In the early stages of proceedings, when a divorce lawyer is still trying to win your trust, they may end up telling you what you want to hear and portraying things more optimistically than they should. In this case, them saying “yes” to you a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that things will pan out the way you hope.
Attorney fees are nearly always negotiable
You might need to sit down in a hurry when you receive your attorney’s estimated fee – and even more so when you receive their actual bill. However, particularly when it comes to estimates, the fees are almost always negotiable. Remember that the attorney wants your business and may be prepared to drop their fees a little in order to secure it.
A specialist divorce firm is better
Choosing a firm that specialises in divorce (which could also include a large firm with a specialist divorce department) is usually better than engaging the services of a generalist. You’ll benefit from their greater expertise, both technically and psychologically, although you may also be required to pay a little more for their services.
You may be able to act “pro se”
Acting “pro se” means “for yourself.” It’s a Latin term that’s often applied to an uncontested divorce because, in such a divorce, the divorcing parties can choose to undertake parts of the divorce process themselves without the services of an attorney. Inevitably, this is cheaper and can sometimes also be faster.
Mediation can make things way easier
Mediation is a low-cost way of reaching an agreement with your estranged spouse over contested issues. A mediator is an independent third party, with no loyalty to you, your spouse or any of the attorneys involved. Since this could settle things more quickly and amicably, it’s not in the lawyer’s best interest however.
Attorney fees rack up quickly
Attorneys charge for almost everything. As well as their hourly rate for phone calls, emails, meetings and court time, expect to be billed for each page they print or fax, the cost of each phone call and even their mileage to the courthouse. There’s not much you can do about this, although some attorneys are amenable to a little push-back.
They’re more available than they seem
Inevitably, your divorce will assume looming importance in your own life, but your attorney won’t feel the same way. Just because you’re told that your lawyer is “out of the office” or “unavailable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the truth, as they may simply want to dedicate more time to other matters.
Aggressive attorneys can actually be worse for you
The media might have you believe that you need an aggressive attorney. However, there’s a difference between a forceful attorney who will fight for your position and one who is unnecessarily adversarial. Knowing when to go for blood, when to dig in your heels and when to smile and shake hands is essential – and you want an attorney that can do all of it.
Rock-bottom retainers aren’t to be taken literally
It’s essential to grasp that a retainer is only an initial advance on work undertaken by your attorney. You must expect to be billed additional sums (sometimes these are quite substantial sums) on top of this figure. Find out what is and isn’t included before choosing your attorney.
You need to do your own attorney due diligence
Opting for the first divorce attorney you come across can be a big mistake. Not all attorneys are created equal. Some will be much better at the job than others. Ask for recommendations; you might know someone who’s been through a recent divorce who can recommend a particular attorney. Then ask the attorney themselves what their fees cover and how they’ll conduct the work.
Sometimes a forensic accountant can be as good as a divorce lawyer
Working out where an estranged spouse has hidden certain financial assets can be so tricky that it’s almost impossible. In such circumstances, a good attorney should advise you to engage the services of a forensic accountant. However, it’s possible that some attorneys will delay making the suggestion, especially if they’re being paid on an hourly basis.
Flat-rate fees can work out more expensive
When picking a divorce attorney, it can seem tempting to opt for the cheapest quote. However, although going for a flat-rate fee means you’ll know how much your legal advice is going to cost you, it won’t necessarily be cheaper than an attorney who bills on an hourly basis. In fact, in many cases, it may work out more expensive.
You can petition a judge to compel your partner to comply
Your attorney won’t necessarily be quick off the mark to tell you this but it’s possible to petition a judge to compel a heel-dragging estranged spouse to comply with the mediation or deposition process. The judge can also impose financial sanctions to “encourage” a reluctant party and even order them to pay the associated costs of any delay.
Staying single is usually cheaper
You’ve probably heard the saying “two can live as cheaply as one” and it might be true, provided you stay together. Problems come when a married couple separates. Not only are there now two sets of living expenses but there’s also the associated legal costs of the split. Staying single is probably cheaper – although divorce attorneys might miss the business.
You can change your attorney at any time
Your attorney might not want you to know this but you can, of course, switch attorneys at any time and for just about any reason. That doesn’t mean you’ll get away with not paying fees already incurred but it should mean you don’t rack up much more for the services of an attorney with whom you’re unhappy.
You might be asked to revamp your appearance for court
Like it or not, judges may be influenced by the physical appearance of those whose cases come before them. This is why your attorney could suggest a haircut or a smarter outfit before your court date. You don’t have to listen to them, of course, but it could be to your advantage to do so, especially if custody arrangements are at stake.
“Discovery” takes a long time
“Discovery” is the process of listing and tallying the marital debts and assets to enable their equitable division. It’s frequently a lengthy process, especially if one spouse is less cooperative than the other. This isn’t great from your point of view but, for your attorney, it usually means higher fees.
Prolonging proceedings is in your attorney’s interests
As a general rule, the longer your divorce proceedings last, the more money your attorney makes out of you. If your estranged spouse isn’t cooperating or is deliberately prolonging proceedings, your attorney could suggest petitioning the judge to compel compliance. However, some attorneys take longer doing this than others.
You can come to a full agreement at any time
You and your estranged spouse don’t have to wait for discovery proceedings to grind to their natural halt. If the divorcing parties are happy, they can come to a full agreement at any time. Moreover, at the very least, the attorneys can begin preparing the final documents at the outset of the process, ready for when agreement is reached.
You can reverse your decision after filing
Not every couple that start divorce proceedings see it through to the end. Reconciliations do happen – and hopefully for the right reasons. If you feel it’s a possibility, rest assured that you can reverse your decision to divorce even after filing the papers. It’s usually just a case of going to your local courthouse and asking for the relevant documents.
You won’t get full child support
Regardless of what you expect, what your earning capacity is, and what you’re eventually owed, if you end up with primary custody of the kids, you’d better expect not to receive full child support. Of course, your ex might be that rare diamond and pay up in full. However, statistics suggest that fewer than 50 percent of parents receive the full amount.
You may be able to reach agreement with your spouse
Although they frequently are, not all divorces are acrimonious. If yours isn’t, there’s a chance you may reach agreement with your spouse without much (or possibly any) need for an attorney. Especially if kids are involved, reaching an amicable agreement is definitely better for your ongoing relationship.
The court may expect you to work
Even if you’re used to your spouse supporting you, the court may expect you to work after your divorce. This is especially likely if your kids are at school and you’re not of retirement age or disabled. As a result, if divorce looks like it’s on the cards, it’s sensible to brush up on your skills and qualifications if you can.
Emotions can override good sense
No matter how strongly you feel about your estranged partner, your attorney won’t pander to your emotions, and you shouldn’t expect them to do so. However, it’s a fact that emotions frequently override good sense and, while your attorney will attempt to keep your expectations grounded in reality, it’s not their job to do so. Really, it’s a role for a therapist.
All assets are fair game
It’s often a shock to a divorcing couple to discover that all assets are fair game when it comes to dividing up the marital assets. For instance, this could include an inheritance left to one party, the book royalties payable to another, or even air miles. A good attorney should caution you against trying to ring fence assets by putting them in one spouse’s name.
Alimony payments are tax deductible
You’re unlikely to be overjoyed if the court orders you to pay alimony. However, even if your attorney doesn’t mention it, you could have a pleasant surprise when it’s time to file your tax return. That’s because alimony payments are tax-deductible. Conversely, the person receiving the alimony payments must declare them and pay tax on them.
Taxable gains leave you vulnerable
The ins and outs of taxable gains highlight the importance of engaging a specialist divorce attorney. This sort of professional will be well aware that a divorcing person who receives assets such as stocks, bonds and real estate from their ex-spouse is vulnerable to taxable gains charges. Not knowing this can cost you dear when the IRS eventually come calling.
Your estranged spouse may not disclose all their assets
Despite the requirement to disclose all assets, you should proceed on the basis that your estranged spouse may not do so. Of course, their attorney should prompt them accordingly – but an obfuscatory, evasive or downright lying client can confound even an attorney. Unfortunately, there’s not much your own attorney can do about this. Your only option might be a forensic accountant.
A solo practitioner may not give your case sufficient attention
A solo practitioner can be very skilled at their role. However, without co-workers to share the load, they can also easily be overwhelmed with work. If you’re thinking of engaging a solo practitioner, you may need to be more proactive when contacting them to ensure that your case doesn’t get overlooked in favor of other ones.
Keep track of your spouse’s money
If divorce looks like it’s in your near future, it’s helpful (if you can) to keep track of your spouse’s money and other assets. It’s not something they or their attorney would want you to do, but if you had your own attorney at this stage of affairs, they might recommend gathering as much information about your partner’s financial affairs as possible.
Make big purchases before filing for divorce
Many states automatically issue financial restraint orders prohibiting the parties involved in a divorce from making big financial purchases until the divorce is finalised. These restraint orders also usually cover the liquidation of assets. Consequently, if you’re hoping to buy a new car or pay out a sizeable sum of money for some other reason, it’s sensible to do so before initiating proceedings.
Get property valued before parting
If you don’t know the full extent of your spouse’s assets, you can’t be sure you’ll get your fair share in the divorce settlement. You can’t expect your estranged spouse or their attorney to help, and your attorney won’t have access to the relevant information. It’s best to ascertain the value of relevant property before starting the divorce process.
You’ll need to be frugal to meet your bills
Even if you expect to be financially stable again in the long-term, the short-term financial hit of divorce can be profound and more hard-hitting than expected. As well as financing your own separate accommodation and perhaps also supporting any kids, you’ll also have to pay your legal bills. This may necessitate some belt-tightening.
Your standard of living will take a hit
Many people can experience a hit to their standard of living following a divorce. If you think about it, it makes sense. One household is becoming two, and if one party was a significantly higher earner than the other, it’s likely that the poorer one will have to get used to a smaller property with less disposable income.
Divorce shouldn’t equal vengeance
It can be very tempting to want to use your divorce as a way of wreaking vengeance on or causing havoc for a cheating or abusive spouse. However, no matter how strong your feelings, divorce is not a punitive process in American courts. You need to have a sense of control and an air of professionalism. This strength proves to them that you’re coping well.