Fear is the universal emotion everyone starts off with in divorce, and one of the biggest and most scary fears, is “How much is this divorce going to cost me?” Divorce is already painful, so the financial costs involved in a divorce are really like salt in an already gaping wound. I had one client who coped with the legal fees by thinking of them as his cost of freedom. So what exactly are those costs? Here are some of the most common ones.
1. Attorneys’ Fees
Everyone thinks of attorneys’ fees when they think of the price of divorce. Certainly attorneys’ fees are a big component of that. Divorce attorneys usually charge by the hour and bill in certain time increments (generally in either tenths or quarters of hours). They usually take a retainer, some or all of which is refundable, and then bill against the retainer. The biggest thing to remember here is that attorneys bill on time not on results. So if you call your attorney daily, send a barrage of emails and have weekly meetings, then your bill will be higher. Some attorneys bill at a flat rate, but be careful — the old adage “you get what you pay for” can often be true with attorneys, too.
2. Filing Fees
There is going to be a cost for filing the petition for dissolution of marriage that is set by each state jurisdiction separately. Most courts also charge a filing fee for the counter-petition, so it doesn’t really matter who files first, you’re both paying to file.
3. Process-Serving Fees
You will incur this cost if you are the petitioner and have the opposing party served. You will also incur process-serving fees for serving subpoenas upon non-parties, who might be witnesses or have other information that is needed for the case.
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4. Forensic Accountants
Not all cases require the assistance of a forensic accountant, but many do. Forensic accountants can value businesses, perform an analysis of the parties’ lifestyle for alimony purposes, or do an analysis of someone’s true income, which is particularly important if one is self-employed.
5. Forensic Psychologists
As with forensic accountants, not all cases need a forensic psychologist, but some do. This professional might be engaged by one or both sides to help determine parenting issues and a parenting schedule.
6. Other Mental Health Professionals
Some cases also require the use of a “parent coordinator” who assists with parenting plan issues. These professionals can be chosen by the parties as an option and sometimes are mandated by the courts.
7. Court Reporter Fees
There is cost for the court reporter’s time and a separate cost for any transcripts that are ordered.
8. Mediation Costs
In most family law settings, mediation is required. This is usually money very well spent because most cases actually do settle in mediation.
9. Other Expenses
Other ancillary expenses might include preparation of quitclaim deeds to transfer property and recording costs for that. Also there are costs for the preparation of any other transfer documents necessary to transfer shares of stock, a business or for a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to divide a retirement account.
How Can You Minimize Your Costs?
There are ways to keep your divorce costs to a minimum. First, it helps agree to as much as you can between you two without the attorneys. However, this only works sometimes and is not always recommended, depending on the circumstances.
Also, it can help to get your financial disclosure done quickly and into mediation as quickly as possible with a good mediator. And as a mediator acts to settle the case, make sure you bring your lawyer with you.