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Hoge Partners, PLLC

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Controlling Your Legal Costs in a Divorce

A Letter to Potential Clients from Bill Hoge

Divorce is as stressful as losing a job, the death of a loved one or any of life's other tragedies. It can also be extremely expensive. There are, however, things you can do to minimize the expense and emotional strain.

I've been practicing Family Law for over 40 years. In my opinion, there is almost no such thing as an "uncontested divorce". It is possible, however, for a divorce to be relatively simple. If the division of the property is uncomplicated, the parties generally agree on terms and, especially if there are no children involved, a divorce can be resolved and finalized without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

Like most law firms, we charge a standard hourly fee. I know any lawyer's hourly rate sounds like a great deal of money, but that hourly rate includes all of the everyday costs necessary to maintain a practice (rent, supplies, equipment, staff salaries, insurance, etc.). I believe my fee is quite reasonable and in line with other attorneys with similar legal experience.

If you were to engage me as your attorney in a divorce matter, you would be billed for the amount of professional time required to adequately represent your interests in this matter. This includes my paralegals' time spent talking with you on the phone, making initial drafts of the necessary pleadings, scheduling depositions, organizing financial records and other essential matters. This would also include my time for meeting with you, taking depositions, preparing for and making appearances in court, and negotiating with the attorney representing your spouse. Over 90% of all divorce cases are settled -- not tried.

Every step of a divorce action is time-consuming and detail oriented. Hypothetically, if someone engages me to handle their "simple" divorce in which there are no minor children and the parties have generally resolved between themselves the division of assets and liabilities, some of the actions which would be required of the dissolution process would include:

  • Initial interview with client and review of client information.
  • Drafting documents (Summons, Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Financial Disclosure Statement, Property Settlement Agreement and Qualified Domestic Relations Order for distribution of pension proceeds, etc.).
  • Once the spouse is served with divorce papers, he or she will most likely engage legal counsel.
  • The Respondent [the spouse served with the divorce papers] and his/her attorney will have 20 days to file an Answer.
  • The negotiation/resolution process could now begin in earnest. The attorneys on each side would exchange financial information concerning the marital and non-marital assets and liabilities.
  • It may or may not be necessary to take depositions of the husband and wife, yet it may even be necessary to take the deposition of people outside the marriage such as a doctor or accountant.
  • One of the attorneys will draft a Property Settlement Agreement which will be reviewed by the other side. There will most likely be several meetings and telephone conferences to iron out the parties' differences on who gets what. Hopefully, it will be possible to resolve this matter without the need for several hearings or a full-blown trial. If the parties can agree, the Property Settlement Agreement can be signed by everyone involved and filed with the Court.
  • The "taking of proof" can usually be done by one of the parties filing a notarized set of interrogatory questions and answers about the facts of the case (date of marriage, ages of the parties, date of separation, etc.).
  • The Judge may then enter the Decree of Dissolution.

In even the simplest cases, there is a tremendous amount of effort required to generate and process a substantial amount of paperwork in the hopes of ending up with a few sheets of paper that signify the end of a marriage contract.  It's complicated and, unfortunately, it is sometimes expensive.

What your lawyer cannot do, however, control how the other side is going to behave.

  • Will they be honest?
  • Will they be straight-forward?
  • Will they produce the documents we need in a cooperative manner or will we have to file a motion, appear at motion hour, get a court order, wait for their response and when it doesn't materialize, go back to court with a contempt motion?
  • Will they negotiate in good faith?
  • Will they cause complications along the way?
  • Will they file a litany of pointless motions to confuse the court or delay the progress of the case?
  • Will unexpected complications arise?  An illness, a property loss such as a fire or storm damage, discovery of surprise evidence, etc.?

There are so many variables and so many things beyond the control of your attorney.  All of these things can complicate the progress of your divorce case.

But you can help to keep a lid on skyrocketing legal expenses by negotiating with your spouse person-to-person about the division of household effects, pets, collectibles, family heirlooms, etc.; by keeping a cooperative and collaborative spirit alive in your on-going relationship with your spouse; by providing your attorney with all of the financial records, tax returns and other documentation that is needed to process your case in an expedient manner; and by generally being willing to share some of the "heavy lifting" in getting your case resolved.


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