Going through the family law process can certainly be expensive, but there are ways you can save money during your divorce. Here are some easy strategies for cutting family law costs and reducing fees when you are going through a split.
1. Look into your alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options
A good family lawyer will be doing their utmost to try to settle your matter, to help you avoid the greater costs of going to court. But if you’re especially keen to avoid court from the outset, it makes sense to spend time thinking about which divorce process will be the best for you, as litigation is of course not the only option available. Make sure you look into whether mediation, arbitration and collaboration may be suitable for you, as these three options are reliably faster, cheaper and less stressful than going to court. Even if you can’t reach agreement through ADR processes, it will still be beneficial to have attempted it, as it will narrow the issues in dispute.
2. Consider hiring a lawyer for only part of the work
It’s also possible to engage a lawyer to provide legal assistance that is limited to a number of agreed services, rather than engaging a family lawyer to comprehensively act from initial instructions to settlement or court. This is known as ‘unbundling’, and is a great way to obtain advice on a single issue or a partial aspect of a case, or to get general help with the whole process.
3. Always have a written costs agreement
Make sure you actually understand the fee arrangements by reading the agreement and being clear on what you will be charged for, and how the different lawyers, paralegals and other assistants will be billing you. Request that your family lawyer inform you well in advance if costs are going to be higher than what was estimated, and ensure this is in writing.
4. Check how disbursements will be billed
Disbursements are fees that your lawyer pays on your behalf, such as court filing fees, photocopying, travel expenses, etc. Make sure you request that estimated disbursements are outlined in your initial family law costs agreement. Ask that they are itemised separately from actual legal work so you can get a complete picture of all costs. For example, if you know your lawyer charges $100 to courier you documents, you may decide it’s more economical to grab a cab to their office to pick up the documents yourself.
5. Work with your lawyer
There are lots of processes involved in resolving a family law case, and there will be a lot of organising and producing documents along the way. To save money, you will need to limit the amount of information-gathering your lawyer has to spend time on by doing as much of the ‘grunt work’ yourself as you can. Be your own private detective – find copies of records, do research, sift through texts and emails, sort out documentation. Spend time summarising key arguments and facts and setting out timelines, so your lawyer doesn’t need to do this.
Also, your lawyer needs to know all the facts right from the start. If you only provide information in random snippets, your lawyer will have to spend time working out where to fit the new information into your case, which will take time, and….you got it, time is money.
6. Plan calls to your lawyer
Arrange a set time and date to talk to your lawyer about your needs. A scheduled call allows you to be prepared and focused and have all your questions ready and allows the lawyer time to prepare their response, advice or game plan. You may find it easier to consolidate your thoughts into an email sent prior to your scheduled call. But instead of repeatedly emailing as and when you think of something, keep a tally of your ideas in a draft and then send one, concise email containing all your points. This is cheaper than having your lawyer bill you for constantly opening emails.
7. When appropriate, contact paralegals or support staff
If you have a simple administrative query, for example when your next court date is or what’s happening in your case, or if you just need a copy of a document, contact support staff or paralegals as they charge less than lawyers and associates. For questions that require legal advice however, contact your lawyer.
8. Prepare for your meeting
Before all your meetings with your family lawyer, make sure you’ve spent time organising your thoughts and preparing questions and topics you want to discuss. Try to avoid waffling on explaining your circumstances – it often helps to draft your thoughts in writing beforehand. Take all important and requested documents to your meeting with your lawyer so you can get things done on the first go. Your lawyer can give you a task list of items to complete before your meeting and how they would prefer the information provided.
Make sure you stick to any deadlines your lawyer has given you to ensure you stay up to date in your matter. Don’t leave it to the last minute to scramble to find information.
9. Deal with your financial disclosure obligations
Prepare the first draft of your financial statement yourself, filling in details and gathering supporting documents. These typically include three years of tax returns and three recent payslips, bank statements, credit card and personal loan statements, mortgage and car loan statements, superannuation account statements, copies of titles and deeds and so on. (Your lawyer will advise you what is required.) If possible try to provide the documents in electronic form, as paper documents actually cost more for lawyers to process.
10. Organise your documents
Once you’ve compiled as much relevant info as your lawyer requires, sort the documents into a logical order, whether it is filed by subject matter or simply chronologically. Label everything you provide to make it easier for your lawyer to review. Whether you create a binder of hard copies or send things through electronically with clear identifying labels, the aim is to make things as easy as possible for your lawyer to find the info they need to save time.
10. Pay your lawyer for legal advice, not quasi-therapy
Divorce is an emotional process, but your lawyer is not a substitute for a psychologist. If you find the emotional side of divorce a struggle, consider seeing a counsellor, rather than blowing off steam to your family lawyer who is not qualified to give psychological advice but still has to charge you for time spent listening to you. And be judicious about information you provide, making sure it’s relevant – your lawyer really doesn’t need to see every single angry email or text that you receive from your ex.
11. Minimise squabbling with your ex
The longer you fight, the longer your settlement negotiations will take, and the greater the likelihood that you’ll end up in court. Easier said than done, but as much as you can, avoid engaging in petty arguments or exchanging abuse.
12. Try to reach agreement on minor issues with your ex
You’ll want to avoid having your lawyer spend time negotiating an agreement on personal property items such as household goods and furnishings. It just doesn’t make sense to pay a lawyer to argue over a set of crockery. So make a list of the items you hope to receive in the settlement, and exchange the list with one from your ex. See if you can agree, and for items where you can’t, have a good think about the actual value of the item and whether a legal fight over it is worth it.
13. Avoid the cost of appraisals/valuations where possible
Sometimes you’ll need to hire other professionals as well as your family lawyer, such as accountants, financial planners, valuers and appraisers. When it comes to the valuers and appraisers, these may need to be engaged to provide valuations of assets, businesses, investments and real property. But if you can reach an agreement with your ex on values, you may be able to skip the cost of hiring professionals. You may be able to use a local used-car value guide to reach agreement on car values, and for homes, you could ask a realtor to provide a comparative market analysis – they will usually do this for free with the aim of gaining your listing. While these methods are not going to give as exact a result as a paid valuation, they are often close enough to be useful.
14. Review your bills
Check what you have been charged for and make sure you understand all the family law costs and charges. If you have any queries, contact your family law firm immediately, instead of waiting until the end of your divorce process when things can no longer be nipped in the bud before further costs are incurred.
15. Be completely honest with your lawyer
Finally, it’s crucial that you are honest and upfront with your lawyer if you want them to create the most effective game plan for all the issues in your matter. Never try to hide information you feel may be damaging to your case, or attempt to conceal assets or artificially minimise your financial circumstances. It just doesn’t pay in the long run, and can ultimately hurt your case.
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Do you need assistance with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.