Tips on Managing Your Divorce Lawyer Bill
Hint: Fighting with your ex in court is expensive
on January 3, 2018
Updated on May 3, 2022
No one expects to be embroiled in a divorce, but the fact is, half of all marriages end there. And, if you need to hire an attorney to help dissolve your marriage and obtain a custody order for your children, the expenses for legal services can vary widely—depending on factors such as whether you have children and how much property you and your ex need to divide. Surprisingly, though, the most expensive factor can be within your control: To what extent are you paying to fight?
Lansdale family law attorney Elizabeth Billies, of Dischell Bartle Dooley law firm, has seen a wide range of behaviors from her clients over the years. She says efficiency strategies are helpful on several levels—financial, emotional and personal: “Getting through the process faster gets you to move on faster, and ultimately helps with the emotional side. Being in the divorce process for two years is not emotionally or financially helpful.”
Billies offers other tips on managing the legal fees of a divorce proceeding, which she acknowledges most people don’t anticipate.
- Be organized. Reining in excess divorce expense is also perhaps the easiest for a client to control. The more you can have your documents in order, provide everything when asked, and keep your lawyer’s time focused, the lower your bill will be. “If I have to ask you three times for something, I’ll have to charge you three times,” says Billies. “I’m not asking to bother you, I’m doing it to help you. Also, it helps me be better prepared and do a better job representing you.”
- Understand the divorce billing timeline. In a divorce, typically the first and last months are the most expensive. “At the beginning, clients need someone to talk to, they have lots of questions, they call a lot,” says Billies. “Then, they get their first bill and they realize they can’t do it like that.” The first month is also the information-gathering stage, which means there will be expenses related to filing initial documents and establishing an initial custody plan. At the end of the process, time is required to go to court, complete a property settlement, and make financial and property transfers and related procedures to finalize the dissolution.
- Some things cost more than others. “Custody is by far the most expensive part of divorce,” observes Billies. She cites three compelling reasons for encouraging clients to come to a child custody agreement:
- Not fighting is in the best interests of the children;
- It’s the most expensive part of divorce, and “you will go broke fighting about custody”; and
- Parents are in a much better position to know what their children need, and to make decisions for them, than is a judge—even a very good judge—who may never meet your children, has limited information, and is being asked to make a decision about your children’s daily lives.
- Fighting can be the most unnecessary expense. “I’ve had cases where we spent $1,000 fighting over a car,” Billies says. “I’ve seen fights over personal property where the legal bills are triple the cost of the item.”
- Don’t hide information, even if you think it’s not in your best interest to reveal it. “I call this an oh-by-the-way client,” says Billies. “The sooner I have that information, the better we can figure out how to handle it.” Also, she notes, the more you fight to give documents, the more the other side thinks you’re trying to hide something.
- Employ strategies to work more efficiently with your lawyer. It makes sense to work with a divorce attorney who can also work with you. For example, Billies likes to give her clients to-do lists and schedule phone conferences to cut down on random calls and help alleviate uncertainty. She also sends document drafts with blanks for her clients to fill in, rather than calling and having to charge them to get the information.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to end up with a receivable,” she explains. “I want to have a good ending with a client because in our business, that’s how the majority of people find a divorce lawyer.”
When hiring a divorce lawyer, find someone with experience and a strategy of working efficiently with clients. For more information on this area, see our overviews of family law, divorce, and mediation and collaborative law.