I meet with a lot of people at various stages of the process through separation and divorce. Some are only considering separation and are wondering how it works, some are newly separated, while others are several months (or even years) into the process. They are always looking for additional information and everyone has the same question: how much is this going to cost me?
This is an important question, especially when the process of separation involves a radical rearrangement of a family’s finances and usually increased costs, at least in the short term.
It is also a really difficult question to answer, especially early on in the process before I have any kind of handle on the personalities involved. So most often I give people some estimates and tell them the one thing I know to be true in every case: conflict is the most expensive thing in a family matter.
Most lawyers’ bill by time spent on a file and more conflict means more revisions to agreements, more letters back and forth between counsel, more meetings, phone calls, and emails, and in the more extreme cases, the costs of attending court.
The clients who end up with the lowest legal costs are the ones who are willing to make smart compromises to get what they want, and have an ex-spouse who is willing to do the same.
So how do you reduce conflict and ultimately limit your costs where possible?
1) Avoid principled litigation
Taking a stand and digging in your heels may feel “right” and you may be sure that if a judge could only hear your version of events, he or she would vindicate you. The truth is that in most cases both sides have an arguable case to make for their position. Understanding the other story and making smart compromises where appropriate is the best way to keep costs down and often leads to better results in the end.
2) Try alternative dispute resolution where possible
Meditation, collaborative meetings between lawyers and their clients, and even hybrid mediation-arbitration proceedings are a great way to resolve issues, arrive at creative solutions, and ultimately save costs.
3) Do risk analysis
Whenever deciding on a course of action, do risk analysis. What do I want? If it is monetary, how much is it worth? How much is it going to cost to get that using various methods? What is my likelihood of success trying various methods? What is the expected range of outcomes?
Risk analysis should be a key element of legal representation and should be reconsidered at each stage in the separation process. Particularly on monetary issues, costs, benefits, and risks must be evaluated constantly
4) Know when to hold your ground
There are some people who are not easy to reason or negotiate with. Identifying the other side’s capacity and willingness to negotiate is a key part of the equation. Sometimes, we need to recognize that negotiation is not going to work, in which case it becomes another type of conflict that drives up costs and needs to be minimized. Fortunately, this is not the case with most matters I deal with.