In California, a divorce can become official six months after the responding party has been served. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, the process can often take much longer. As the time drags on, the costs typically go up. But there are some things you can keep in mind that may reduce cost (and shorten time!).
1. Come to an agreement on terms (property, custody, support) before filing or as soon as possible.
If the two of you are able to agree on how to divide your property, how to handle custody and visitation, and what to do about spousal and child support, you can significantly reduce the cost of your divorce. Each of you will need to consult with an attorney who can review your settlement agreement and offer advice. You can then hire an attorney to draft and file the court documents so it is done properly. If you avoid the need to pay attorneys to conduct discovery, file motions in court, appear at court hearings, and so on, you can save a significant amount of money in attorney fees.
2. Utilize mediation.
If you don’t come to an agreement quickly or easily, you can hire a mediator to help you discuss your preferences, rights, and offer solutions. It is often helpful to have an objective third party offering insight and ideas that can be appealing to both sides. If the mediator is experienced in family law issues, she can make sure that you cover all the important legal and practical issues of your divorce. This option still requires you to pay mediation fees but can save a lot of extra attorney fees that you will incur if the two of you “fight it out” in court.
3. Gather as much information and relevant documents as soon as possible.
Gather and make copies of all important financial documents—mortgage contract, property tax bill, checking and saving account statements, 401(k) and pension account statements, medical records, grant deeds, and so on. The sooner you do this, the better. Once you separate, it may be harder to access these documents. If you don’t do it, you will end up paying your attorney to gather this information which will be time-consuming and thus, expensive.
4. Tell your attorney everything from the very start.
Often, people do not reveal everything to their attorney. It might be because it’s hard to talk about, because the attorney seems busy, or because it doesn’t seem that important. But, if an attorney has all of the relevant information from the start, she will be able to represent you in the best way possible. Your attorney needs to understand the entire picture in order to make the best decisions, offer the best advice, advocate for you appropriately, and do so efficiently.
5. Demand and inspect your attorney’s bill on a regular, frequent basis. Or use flat fee services.
If your attorney is billing at an hourly rate, it is important to keep track of those hours, which equal money. Know how often your attorney bills (usually once per month) and demand those bills be delivered promptly. Review the bills right away and discuss any questions or concerns you have with your attorney. Make sure you have an understanding as to what is coming next and how many hours (i.e., $) it will take. Take advantage of flat fee rates if possible. Paying at a fixed rate keeps the costs much more predictable.
6. Do some of the work yourself.
Many people in family law court are self-represented, meaning they don’t have a lawyer so they are representing themselves. It is difficult to manage a legal matter without any professional legal help. There is help available: A self-represented individual can find help from court websites and court self-help clinics. Free legal aid is available for people who qualify financially. Paralegals can help complete forms and file documents, but they cannot offer legal help or advice. Another option is a hybrid between self-representation and attorney representation; it is called limited scope representation or “unbundled” legal services. A self-represented litigant can hire an attorney to provide specific legal services for a flat fee—for example, to review your court documents or to appear at a hearing.
7. Choose Your Battles Wisely
Legal battles are expensive. Thoughtfully consider which issues are worth the time, hassle, emotional drain, and financial drain of fighting over. Often people dig in their heels and refuse to compromise with the other party because they are hurt and angry. Sometimes these emotions prevent a person from realizing the cost—financially and otherwise—is not worth it. You may think that your arguments and points of view are obviously the correct ones, so you are confident the judge will see the same. But very often this is not the case. There is no way to predict the judge’s decision, and you can’t get a “do over” just because you don’t like her decision. Since this is the reality, you can save a lot of money by coming to a compromise sooner rather than later.
Contact a Long Beach Divorce Attorney
If you are looking to save costs during your divorce or other legal matter, contact the attorneys at Shoreline Legal Group, LLP. We provide limited scope legal services and flat rate fees. We are available to coach you, advise you, and assist you in your legal matter. We can help you stay in control of your case and keep the costs down. Serving Long Beach, Cerritos, Santa Ana, and Orange, CA as well as surrounding areas.