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Lower Costs of Divorce
Although some costs associated with obtaining a divorce in Georgia are unavoidable, there are some actions that individuals going through the divorce process can take in order to control or even reduce the cost of their divorce. Below a list of tips and suggestions that may help you lower the cost of your Georgia divorce. Our list is organized into three categories:
- Being cost effective when you communicate with your lawyer.
- Cost saving actions you can take and cost saving choices you can make.
- Documents you should provide and information you should gather to make the process more cost effective.
Communication with your Lawyer
- Have a Clear Written Fee Agreement - It is extremely important that you get a written fee agreement that makes clear the terms of the representation, including whether any retainer is refundable, how often you will receive statements, and the hourly rates of the attorneys and staff that will be working on your matter. You should obtain and keep a copy of this fee agreement and refer to it in the event you have any questions concerning your attorney’s bills. Being knowledgeable concerning the various rates of the attorneys and staff working on your matter may help you make conscious and informed decisions regarding who you choose to speak with when calling.
- Your Divorce Lawyer is not your Therapist - Divorces are extremely emotional. Because your divorce attorney is in your corner, talking to him or her may be a very reassuring and therapeutic experience. Your attorney understands your side of the situation, and it feels good to talk to someone who sees the righteousness of your position. Because it makes you feel better, you may get into the habit of calling often, almost daily. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP. Remember, every time you call your lawyer the clock is ticking, and you are getting billed by the hour. As soon as your attorney picks up the phone to receive your telephone call, the meter begins running, and you are being charged.
Practice Pointer - How Much Should I Communicate?
The above tip does not mean you should never communicate with your lawyer. On the contrary, you should communicate with your attorney anytime you need legal advice on your case. But before you pick up the phone, make a list of questions or issues you want to discuss and limit your conversation to these points without wasting time ranting about the unfairness of the situation or the illogical nature of your soon to be ex-spouse.
- Do not Use Your Attorney to Negotiate a Division of Personal Items - Arguing about which party deserves the 42” television or the rice cooker is not a good use of attorney’s fees. If at all possible, you should try to resolve these issues with your spouse without the intervention of your attorney. Ideally, if you and your spouse have already separated, you could divide these items by agreement and exchange them before the case has been completed. When it is time to finalize the divorce, your settlement agreement or Final Order and Decree would simply state that each party retains any and all personal effects currently in that party’s possession.
- Choose Your Divorce Attorney Wisely - This is extremely important. People will often be very frugal about hiring an attorney and think they are saving a lot of money by hiring a lawyer for a small flat fee or by hiring someone who is inexperienced but will work cheaply. This is often a mistake.
Cost Saving Actions & Choices
If you are seeking to save money during your divorce process, your goal should be to reach a reasonable settlement as quickly as possible. In order to reach this goal you will need an effective attorney who shares your view regarding case strategy. Your lawyer will then use his or her experience and skills to help you reach that shared objective. However, if the other side cannot be convinced to settle the case on reasonable terms it is imperative that your lawyer be skillful and confident enough to effectively try your case. Hiring an attorney that is inexperienced or is simply unprepared, can end up costing you a great deal of money over the long run. Despite this, there are several actions you can take and choices you can make that can save you money in your case.
- Always Remember - Time is Money - As Abraham Lincoln once explained, “a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” In other words, lawyers bill for their time. The more time your lawyer invests in your case, the higher your legal fees will be. With this being said, if you are unclear on what your attorney does and does not charge for, ask. Clarify with you attorney regarding what he or she bills for so that you do not unknowingly request services that you would not like to be billed for.
- Use Your Time with your Attorney Wisely - Most attorneys who bill hourly for their time do so in minimum increments. Normally, these minimum increments are blocks of minutes. For instance, many lawyers will bill in six minute or 12 minute increments. What this means is, as soon as your attorney begins work on your case, he or she will record the time spent on your case in six minute intervals, and charge you accordingly. For example, if your attorney charges $200 per hour, and you have a two minute conversation with your lawyer, that is one six minute increment, or $20 in fees. To avoid the accumulation of unnecessary fees plan ahead before meeting with or speaking with your attorney. Save your questions for one conversation, rather than calling your lawyer every time you have something on your mind. Keep in mind that four two minute conversations could equal $80 in legal fees, but one eight minute conversation equals only $40 in legal fees.
- Be Prepared - Come to meetings with your attorney prepared. If you are prepared and organized for a meeting, it will take less time and it will also direct your attorney’s attention to the issues that you would like specifically addressed. Additionally, being prepared for all meetings with your attorney will allow you to resolve more items at the meeting. Try taking a few minutes prior to each attorney meeting to write an agenda of what you want to discuss.
- Follow The Plan - Follow "The Plan". If you and your attorney have agreed on a course of action, plan, or theory of the case, do not change direction, take any unilateral action, or simply fail to follow through without first discussing your change of heart with your attorney. If you do decide that it is necessary to change your litigation approach, immediately communicate your decision with your attorney and discuss how this change may be implemented. If you leave your attorney out of the loop, miscommunication is bound to occur which could ultimately result in your attorney taking unnecessary and costly steps.
- Be Responsive - Always read any correspondence that is sent to you by your attorney and respond if necessary. Typically, attorneys forward copies of court notices, legal documents and other case related communication to their clients for their review and approval before taking action. If you fail to respond to your attorney in a timely manner, this could cause delay in your case. Additionally, you could incur additional legal fees generated by your attorney having to track you down to follow up on correspondence sent. Simply by being organized and remaining actively involved in your case could significantly reduce your legal fees. Although you may not understand every document you receive from your attorney, it is very important to review each piece of information and to contact your lawyer with any questions.
Providing Documents & Gathering Information
Even more important, during your case you may be asked to provide documents, answer interrogatory questions or complete other court related forms. In completing these tasks, it is important that you understand what information is being requested and to follow your lawyer’s instructions in completing any forms. Do not hold back information. Assume that any information requested is necessary unless you are informed otherwise by your lawyer. If you provide disorganized or incomplete information, your attorney may spend a number of hours sorting through paperwork which will result in additional costs to you.
Providing your attorney with complete organized responses to any requests will not only save your attorney time, but it will also save you money.
- E-Mail May Prove to be Your Best Friend - Although e-mail may seem like an inefficient and often slow means of communication, use e-mail for correspondence with your attorney instead of calling if at all possible.
- Focus on The Issues - Listen to your lawyer and focus on the legal issues of your case. All too often, divorce costs are driven up by emotional issues that do not relate to the real legal issues of the case. Commonly, those going through divorce spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars, unnecessarily, arguing over items like couches, chairs, and other replaceable items that are far less valuable than the attorney’s fees used to obtain them. Remember, these items are replaceable. Always ask yourself: "Do I really want this item, or am I simply asking for it because it will hurt my spouse?" Use the divorce process to "get out" not to "get even,” because “getting even” is often not worth the extra expense.
- Cheating Does Not Pay - Many contemplating divorce rue the prospect of having to share their assets with their spouse. However, attempting to hide assets from your spouse will only delay the proceeding and will likely result in higher legal fees and possibly even court imposed sanctions. Do not do it. Be honest and forthcoming with the court and your attorney. Your attorney cannot adequately represent you without all the facts.