A Very Real Consideration in Litigation

Aside from the merits of the case, a person contemplating litigation, including divorce, must consider a number of nonlegal factors, including the emotional wear and tear of the case, the time involved, and its cost. Litigation is not cheap, and the longer a cases goes, the more expensive it becomes.

Anyone contemplating a divorce — even a “simple” uncontested divorce — should ask his or her lawyer for an estimate. No one should feel embarrassed to do so. The costs of a drawn-out court battle can be as eye-popping as medical bills.

High cost is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the increased popularity of pro se divorce, where the parties bypass (or at least reduce the involvement of lawyers) by acting as their own attorneys in simplified legal actions.

Legal fees can run from a few hundreds (or less) for a simple uncontested, default divorce that moves through the courts administratively to thousands and thousands of dollars for a battle royal that goes to trial. Normally, the most expensive line item on a legal bill is the lawyer’s hourly fee, but fees for expert witnesses, such as forensic accountants (to track hidden assets) or child psychologists (in a custody fight) rapidly run up the bill.

In a divorce, a couple can work to hold down costs. The more work the spouses do, the less work for the lawyers — and the less expensive the divorce is for the both of them. If Rufus and Rhonda tell their respective lawyers to “have at it” in negotiating a property settlement, both of them will be shocked when they get the bill “for services rendered.” On the other hand, a couple who can hammer out the terms and conditions of their property settlement, child custody and support agreements with each other and by themselves can dramatically reduce the costs of their divorce. If their respective lawyers do it, each spouse may end up paying $250 or more per hour for a lawyer’s time.

Without a doubt, the most expensive way to end a marriage is in a divorce trial, where a two-day trial in some parts of the country can easily cost $70,000 or more, according to sources.

A smart divorce client keeps a good lawyer on a tight leash: he or she never turns the lawyer loose with instructions to go for the kill.

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