Can $399 Really Get a Divorce——How to Choose a Cost-Effective Marriage Lawyer

Today, ads promising a $399 divorce proliferate. Is something like this even possible? Probably not. First, court costs exceed $300 in New York State alone. However, you can obtain the forms needed to process an uncontested divorce at your local county clerk’s office or at the New York State Office of Court Administration website. So, if you have an uncontested divorce, a cooperative spouse, and a willingness to do the paperwork, your total costs probably won’t exceed $400 (including subway or bus fare back and forth).

This post is for those of you who need to hire a lawyer, either because you have

Race issues, complex assets or child custody issues that require the expertise of a family law expert, or you just want someone to do the legwork for you. And if that’s your situation, it’s no surprise that you’re not likely to get personal or agency services for $399.

The good news is that if you’re prudent and wise (and your spouse is too), you might be able to get a divorce without breaking the bank. I mean you can get the job done for anywhere from $1,500 (in the simplest, most “no-hassle” case) to $10,000 (in the more complex case). However, I cannot stress enough that keeping your costs in this range is only possible if neither you nor your spouse compromise or demand blood.

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts designed to help you reach your goals:

(1) Choose your lawyer carefully.

Make sure the person’s personality and demeanor suit you and has the legal knowledge and insight needed to tailor advice to your needs. An attorney may wow you with his or her personality, legal knowledge, rhetorical skills, or commitment during the initial consultation, but if he or she is unable or refuses to listen to you, you may pay the price later.

(2) Maintain civilized, better, cordial communication with your ex-spouse.

Sometimes, in divorces with multiple issues, the only way to control legal costs is to negotiate an agreement directly with your spouse and have an attorney draft one. In any case, entering into a civil relationship with your spouse early, especially if children are involved, may help facilitate compromise, reduce resentment, reduce anxiety, and most importantly, reduce legal costs.

(3) Be prepared to compromise.

Clients often bemoan their spouse’s inability to be reasonable, but they are also often not ready to compromise themselves. If you are convinced that your settlement offer is so reasonable that no one will turn it down, then you are either overly generous with your first offer, or you are currently unable to weigh the pros and cons in a balanced manner. Most likely the latter.

(4) Know what is most important to your spouse.

That doesn’t mean you have to give in to exactly what he or she wants. But accept the fact that an agreement is only possible if you are flexible enough to compromise on one or more issues that are vital to your spouse. At the same time, it’s equally unrealistic to expect to win on every issue you think matters to you.

(5) Avoid confrontational movement exercises at all costs.

In some cases, temporary issues that require immediate attention, such as interim support or a spouse’s refusal to disclose important financial information, may not be resolved without a motion. In this case, you have no choice but to file a motion with the court. However, if you must take this class, be prepared to incur legal fees that will almost certainly exceed $10,000 in the end (and the cost of filing a motion could be that much or more). Also, be aware that if you go down this path, you may elevate your case to such an adversarial level that the costs will multiply.

(6) Never tell yourself that you would rather pay your lawyer than your spouse.

You may end up paying for both. This strategy only makes sense if your spouse’s expectations are high and unlikely to materialize any time soon. Additionally, the court may end up viewing you as an unrealistic party, in which case you may even be ordered to pay your spouse’s attorney fees.

(7) Help your attorney do his or her job for you whenever possible.

Most legal clients today are educated consumers who don’t need to be told that it is wise to help your attorney work for you more effectively. But if you’re allergic to paperwork, sickly disorganized, or just don’t want to be directly involved in the painful ordeal, then you’re going to have to pay extra. Almost all divorce attorneys charge by the hour, and many areas of the divorce business are inherently time-consuming. On the other hand, if you spend hours explaining to your attorney things he or she could have discerned from the documents, you will be accomplishing the opposite of your goal.

(8) Estimate costs on an ongoing basis with your attorney.

In order to do this effectively, you need to understand the scope and rationale for the steps your attorney recommends. It’s not enough to know that your attorney plans to start by preparing the summons and pleadings. You need to know what that means and whether it will take hours or days of legal work.

(9) Do not litigate matters concerning children.

If you cannot work with your spouse to resolve child(ren) custody and visitation issues, you will have no chance of avoiding substantial legal fees. This means that as long as your child is not in danger, you will have to compromise on the schedule and custody tab if you want or need to keep costs in check. This isn’t always easy advice to follow. Often, one or both partners mistakenly view parenting as a battleground for securing control or financial advantage over the spouse. If this is the case, you will have a hard time avoiding costly litigation.

in conclusion

If you can avoid these nine pitfalls, you stand a good chance of avoiding getting yourself into legal bills, even if it doesn’t mean paying $399 for a divorce.

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