We get quite a number of calls from people who have moved from thinking about divorce to actually taking the first steps. One of the most common questions they have concerns cost. As they’re determining what it will take to get divorced, they wonder why it costs so much.
Though there’s not one simple answer for this, it starts with what divorce really is from a legal perspective. It ends a marriage, but it creates a legal document that determines what happens to the finances of two people who have intermingled assets and debts for years. If the couple has children, it begins a new phase of their parenting lives, determining when the children will be with each parent – ideally drawn up with the children’s best interests in mind.
It’s a very detail-oriented process that takes time and legal know-how to get it correct, let alone in the best interest of those involved. People who might be tempted to file their own divorces should know that judges are particular about divorce decrees following specific formats and language, and even minor deviations from that could mean that they have to start over.
While people attempting their own divorces are likely doing it for the first (and hopefully only) time, our legal team has processed literally thousands of divorces, know the judges involved, and are knowledgeable in Texas divorce laws. That expertise can seem costly at first, but it can pay dividends in the assets you’re awarded or in the parenting plan that works best for you and your children.
Litigating a divorce case is typically the most time-consuming and therefore most costly route to getting a decree, and it requires a lawyer to be extremely prepared. Unlike collaboration or mediation, where the lawyers are positioned to come to a mutually-agreeable solution, litigation puts lawyers in adversarial roles where not being prepared can mean the difference between winning and losing.
The cost of a divorce does mean you should be prepared to invest in your lawyer as you initiate the process. Our firm, like many other law firms, require payment of a retainer as we start your case. That money is held in what’s called an IOLTA account, which we draw from to settle invoices for the work we do on your behalf. When the account balance gets below 50% of your initial retainer, we ask you to pay more money into your IOLTA account to cover the costs of the work to come. (Any unused amount is, of course, returned to you once your case is concluded.)
There are things you can do to keep your costs down. Any time that your lawyer or other members of the firm spend meeting with you or on the phone with you is billable, so you want to make sure to be mindful of that. If you have questions for your lawyer, an email might be more expedient and less costly than a conversation. If you do need to talk, keeping the conversation focused on legal matters helps greatly – it’s best to save the venting and emotional discussions to your counselor or your confidantes.
It also helps for you to do your homework. One of the most time-consuming elements of a divorce is getting all your financial papers in order. The more you can do, the less our legal team needs to do, and the more you’ll control your costs.
And of course, if you can settle your case without litigation, it can be much less costly to go that route. Mediation, for example, is designed to help couples arrive at a completed decree in a day or even a half-day, though it requires both parties to be focused and to know what is most important to them. (In Bexar County, there’s a Dispute Resolution Center option that can control costs even more than a standard mediation does.)
While the cost of a divorce might seem intimidating, the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance is happy to talk to anyone planning a divorce to talk through options – all divorces are different, and depending on your situation, there may be a number of solutions that fit your budget. Ultimately, it’s an investment you make toward a better future for you and your children.