In a perfect world you would have read the article 10 Ways to Stay the Hell Out of My Office, and you would not need me (oh, and I would win the lottery, travel the world and run my charitable foundation, but I digress). Alas, this is a wonderful, but less than perfect world and divorce lawyers are a necessary evil. Some marriages cannot and should not be saved. Some were never right to begin with, some are broken beyond repair, and some marriages have only one person holding its shattered pieces together with duct tape and chewing gum.
The ending of your marriage is a beginning of a life full of love, but you have to get to the end first. Hopefully you will do it with the least amount of collateral damage possible. If not, you risk trading your child’s hard-earned college funds or your retirement accounts for outrageous legal bills. I can tell you for certain, if I had to hire myself, I would be in big financial trouble. Long ago, when going through my own divorce even paying for incoming and outgoing faxes at $1.00 per page set me back $90, and I thought I was going to be sick, with a small child to care for it might as well been $900. An hourly rate of $400 translates to over $6.50 a minute and those hours and minutes add up quickly. Even the simplest divorces can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars better spent just about anywhere else. A nice sabbatical in Paris will do more for your soul than getting the china, I assure you. Pay for your child’s education or pay for your attorney’s child. Many times the choice is yours.
So if you can’t stay the hell out of my office, here are a few ways to get out as quickly, economically, and as painlessly as possible for the sake of your wallet and your sanity.
1. Hire a good therapist.
If you want me to be your lawyer this is not a suggestion, it is a requirement. You will be faced with difficult issues throughout your divorce and long after. These decisions will have lasting financial and emotional consequences for you and your children. The dynamic of the marriage is likely the dynamic in the divorce. There is often one party with more power, one party who is more prepared to move on, and numerous issues of communication and trust (or you might not be here to begin with). All of these issues play an important part in how effectively and quickly this process works. Your motivations and expectations need to be examined by someone who is not your best friend or your Mom. Most of us generally operate under the premise that we don’t have the luxury of a nervous breakdown. We are too busy with kids, parenting, work and just trying to remain effective or at least moderately functioning. Never underestimate the power of losing your crap once in a while. Therapist offices are perfect for that with comfortable furniture and plenty of tissues. Healthy people make good decisions because they have worked to understand how they got to this place. Getting help to get past the pain will allow you to make decisions for the right reasons. You will also benefit from being less likely to need a lawyer the next time around.
2. Have realistic expectations your divorce and of the process.
It is hard for people to understand this will take some time. The timeline and deadlines are prescribed by law and our Courts are packed. This will not happen overnight. Disclosure takes time. No matter if you have Clarence Darrow as your lawyer, anyone who tells you that you will “win this thing” is short sighted at best. You will not get everything you want in this process. Divorce starts with simple math, and divide by two. No matter how much (or little) you have to begin with, you will have less. With this divorce will come two mortgages, two cable bills, and so on.
There are no guarantees in Court. I have “won” cases I thought I would surely lose and had terrible outcomes in cases I thought were as clear as can be. The idea that you will just leave this process to the judge who will determine what is “fair” is a dangerous game. I assure you, the Court’s idea of fair is significantly different from yours. But fair is the place you get funnel cake not anything you will see in divorce. This is true no matter who your lawyer is or how much money you spend. There is a big difference between what is right and fair from a moral standpoint and the law. Often the Court, although well intentioned, has its hands tied by a little thing called the law. The law always wins out over everything else.
Reasonable expectations and positions lead to less fighting and therefore less fees. The sooner you understand that this situation is rarely “fair”, the faster and cheaper you will get the hell out of my office. Fights over principal are expensive and really never change anything in the end. I would rather hold onto a few more dollars than prove that I’m right on just about any issue.
3. Treat Your Divorce as if it is a job.
Be aware of your deadlines. I know it’s easy to try and ignore the situation, but this will not make it go away. Get those documents to us before they are due. Extensions cost time and money. Don’t dump documents on us in a disorganized fashion as it will take us additional time and money to put them together. Return our calls promptly and keep us informed of changes in finances or other situations. The more you do, the less I have to do. Even paralegal time can be $100 per hour or more. Think of how hard you work to make $50,000 a year at your job. You work 40 hours a week or more for 50 weeks out of the year. The work you do and the focus you give to this divorce can make you thousands of dollars better off in your result. No one knows your life better than you do, including relevant details about your spouse, or about that account in the islands. It may be easier to “just let the attorneys handle it,” but the more you stay involved, the less you will spend.
4. Choose your battles and how you fight them.
There is no reason to pay an attorney to fight over your personal property, but people do it every day. I am sure your stuff is fabulous. Your couch is one of a kind and no other couch will do. You are Goldilocks and this particular couch is “just right”. For $400 an hour for each side and add another $400 an hour for your mediator, you can buy some really nice new stuff. The cost benefit analysis is crucial. Sometimes the motivation for decisions has nothing to do with the issue in front of you. It is really never about the couch. (See number 1- Hire a good therapist).
Letting the other side know you care too much about the outcome of any one issue can be counter productive to getting what you want. Act ambivalent, or better yet, actually be open to compromise as much as you can. You will often find it easier to end up with the house or more importantly Christmas morning with the kids. Most of the things you are fighting for are just things. The rest tend to work out in time after the heat of the emotions dies down. Timesharing cases often settle into one of two scenarios. The person fighting so hard but never stepping up before does not take the time sharing arrangement they fight so hard for, or they really step up to the plate and your kids are better off for it.
You will not get everything you want, and you will have to give up things that are important to you. That really great one of a kind couch, your house and even a few friends may be casualties of this divorce. There is no good outcome when you have to spend even one night away from your young child or when you have to sell a home you have lovingly created over many years. We say in this business a good result is one where both parties are unhappy. You get less than you believe you are entitled to and the other party gives up more than they wanted.
5. Listen to your Attorney.
I was not my own divorce attorney. I hired someone who could be objective when I could not be. You are paying your lawyer a ton of money and presumably, they are seasoned in what they do. Listen to them. You will save yourself a considerable amount of money and aggravation in the end. They have been down this road a time or two. When they tell you not to do something, don’t do it. Sometimes you may not understand the big picture the way your lawyer does or the serious implications of acting a certain way or taking a certain position. If you don’t want to take your attorney’s advice and are hell-bent on doing it your own way, save your money and do it yourself.
6. Remember this is not your friend’s Divorce.
Here in Florida, I call it the PGA pool syndrome. Everyone talks to their friends about how much alimony and/or child support they are receiving and thinks their result should be exactly the same. No two results are ever the same as there are no two identical sets of facts. Your friend may be receiving permanent alimony but they were married 25 years and you were married 10. They may be receiving $15,000 per month but their spouse earns twice as much as yours. There are numerous factors in play and comparisons to anyone else are likely to set unreasonable expectations from the outset. Your divorce will be based on your factors, not anyone else’s. Comparison to anyone else is just a poor idea in your divorce and generally in life. Don’t ask why you can’t get more, ask if you will have enough.
7. Let your attorney hire the experts needed.
There are many times when outside experts are needed to properly evaluate and present your case. Forensic accountants are often crucial to the proper and efficient presentation of the evidence. While the initial expense may be intimidating, hiring an expert can often save money in the end. Remember you get what you pay for. Things will move more quickly if you hire someone who has the proper expertise. Let your lawyer present the best case possible.
8. Tell the truth.
Beware of anyone who encourages you to do otherwise. Credibility is everything, in Court and in life. It does not matter what you fail to tell the truth about, big or small. My job and the job of opposing counsel is to catch you in your lie (and most of the time, we do). A lie then colors all you say to the other side making settlement more difficult or worse in Court where to the trier of fact will give a little weight to your testimony. Be transparent. Provide the documents the other side is requesting because if you don’t, you will spend a ton of money and more than likely have to turn the documents over in the end. If you don’t tell your lawyer the truth, they can’t help you. Tell the truth because it is the right thing to do. Tell the truth because you are required under the law and because if you don’t, you will likely have to find a new lawyer.
9. Be cooperative with each other.
Get informed about your finances and collect all the documents you can together with your spouse to avoid duplicative efforts. Help each other when you can. Watch the children so your soon to be ex-spouse can work. Be on time. Talk to each other about schedules, activities and finances. Send the kids with clean laundry, share clothes and toys. The more you cooperate with each other, the less the lawyers need to be involved in the micromanagement of your life.
10. Get perspective.
Divorce sucks, I get it, I have been there. However, in the scheme of life there are worse things, much worse. Health issues, a sick child or the loss of a loved one are things you really need to worry about. This divorce stuff will pass, it really will. This divorce will bring you a new life, which is hard to see when it feels like you have been punched in the stomach. You need to get some perspective. When my daughter was a baby, there had been an accident and she was significantly delayed with her speech. When she qualified for special services, I was devastated, literally sick and felt like my life was so horrible. Why did this happen to me? As I was walking out of the facility, feeling quite sorry for myself (when it was my daughter that was struggling), I noticed there was a row of neatly lined up tiny wheelchairs. I was quickly brought back to reality that my issues paled in comparison to the struggles of so many others. It could have been worse. Instead of feeling sorry for myself that my daughter had issues, I was reminded to be grateful there were services to help her. I am quite sure that was a turning point for me. Perspective is something I try to remember whenever things feel overwhelming. Keeping your divorce in perspective makes it easier. Perspective is powerful; it gives us the ability to control our outcomes even when we feel out of control. Opportunities to get a little perspective are all around you, you just have to look outside your own issues. Spend a little time helping others when you are hurting, it just feels good. Perspective helps you heal, and the faster you heal, the faster the process and the sooner you get the hell out of my office.
The divorce process will be hard and often painful but you will get to the other side and be happy again. This I can promise. You will love and be loved again. You will laugh a million times. It will be a part of your story, but not the most important story of your life. You can handle anything this life hands you. You have done it every day of your life so far. So, as much as I enjoy helping people through this difficult time, I would rather get you out of here as quickly as possible, maybe you will send me your best friend, unless, of course, she makes the Choice to Stay.