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The Frugal Divorce – Getting Divorced Without Going …


If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself caught in a divorce during these tough economic times, you’re going to wonder how you can make sure your interests are protected in your divorce without breaking the bank in the process. Here are five suggestions from http://www.midohiodivorce.com to help keep the cost of your divorce litigation in check.

1. Don’t even consider going it alone unless you have no other choice.

One trend which has been frustrating family courts has been the increase of “pro se” divorce filings. “Pro se” is the term commonly used for parties who are without legal counsel. Although a divorce can be a complex matter fraught with opportunities to make extremely costly errors, the court generally cannot provide legal advice to the parties nor can it refuse to hear the case without involvement of qualified divorce counsel. Even with a slight error in language, the end result can be the loss of an interest in retirement funds, the loss of child custody, the inability to discharge debts in bankruptcy, errors in spousal support calculation, and numerous other possibilities. Even if the end result is satisfactory, going it alone can result in needless frustration, a substantial, and unforeseen, time commitment on the part of the pro se parties and the court, and more cost than initially anticipated in light of additional court costs and time away from work finalizing the case.

When looking at the cost of divorce litigation, parties often look at the expense of the attorney and court costs alone without taking other, indirect, costs into account. While an attorney may charge $1,500.00 for an uncontested divorce, a party who decides to represent himself may find that the fee would have been well worth it once he goes through the process of doing the requisite research, completing the requisite forms, filing them, and addressing any problems raised by the court.

The general rule regarding legal representation in your divorce case is simply this: the earlier in the divorce process that you consult legal counsel, the more effective your legal counsel can be. While you might not be sure as to whether you wish to file for divorce or take other steps to address the conflict in your relationship, an experienced family law attorney can be a considerable resource. While most experienced family law attorneys maintain a low fee for initial consultations, they are also willing to discuss your options with you so that you may make an informed decision. Further, many maintain a list of competent marriage counselors and other community resources to assist you. They can also help you consider whether certain actions will affect you positively or negatively in a future divorce case.

If you simply do not have the financial ability to hire a qualified family law attorney, there are a few other options available to you. Quite often, the local Legal Aid Society will provide representation to indigent clients in divorce cases. You should also contact the local bar association and local law schools to see whether they offer a divorce clinic where indigent parties can obtain free representation in their divorce cases. If all else fails, and you do have to complete your paperwork yourself, you can often hire local counsel for a nominal fee to simply review your paperwork and advise you regarding any glaring errors he or she may find before you submit it to the court for filing.

2. Consider using alternative dispute resolution.

Sometimes even the roughest conflicts can be resolved amicably through mediation or collaborative law. The only true way to limit the expense of your divorce is to try and resolve your issues amicably with your spouse. This can involve one on one mediation or a settlement conference with your attorneys present. However, you should always inquire with your attorney regarding options for settlement or streamlining the process through any available alternative dispute resolution programs.

3. Do your research before retaining counsel.

In interviewing attorneys, make sure you know as much as possible about their experience and focus of their practices before making a final determination. Family law attorneys can have varying degrees of experience as well as a broad range of strengths, skills, relevant education and training, and, of course, weaknesses. In choosing an attorney to represent your interests, you should seek out an experienced and concerned attorney who will represent your interests and promote your goals zealously while also making sure that your decisions are being made based on reason rather than emotion. Most importantly, you should seek out an attorney with whom you are comfortable and who you feel you can trust.

The determination of whether one is comfortable with an attorney and feels that he or she can trust the attorney is obviously a personal, and subjective, one. However, the determination of whether an attorney possesses the optimal amount of experience and knowledge in family law can be easily researched and ascertained through a couple of questions in the initial intervie.

Find out, for example, if your state offers a “family law specialist” designation and, if so, whether the attorney you are consulting with is a family law specialist. Quite often, a state family law specialty designation carries heightened requirements concerning the percentage of the attorney’s practice devoted to family law cases, continuing legal education dedicated to family law issues, references from local family law attorneys and court staff, and often even submission to a family law specialty exam or other advanced screening process.

Not specializing in Family Law Practice does not mean an attorney is not competent to handle a Family Law case. However, where the attorney is not a specialist, or if you live in a state which does not offer a family law specialist designation, you should still inquire regarding the percentage of the attorney’s practice which is devoted to family law cases. Often, a greater focus on family law cases will entail an office with staff who are more experienced with the family law process and in handling issues which may arise from day to day as well as a more streamlined approach to handling domestic cases which, in turn, may result in more efficient and expedient representation.

4. Know your attorney’s full billing policy.

Recently, I read an advertisement for a “$350.00 flat fee for uncontested divorce” offered by a local law firm where I practice. The ad seemed deceptive since the filing fees for a divorce in the county where I practice were $250.00 which were clearly not included in the quoted price of $350.00 for an uncontested divorce. With the filing fee, the cost of a process server and any other necessary outside expenses, the ultimate cost of the divorce would be similar to the rates charged by other attorneys in the area. Thus, regardless of whether the attorney charges a flat fee or an hourly rate, you should always review the attorney’s billing policy to see whether there are other charges such as filing fees, postage, service of process, long-distance telephone charges, copies, or other charges in addition to the quoted fee.

The other key word in the “$350.00 flat fee for uncontested divorce” ad was the word “uncontested.” Often, parties will jump at the offer without asking the question of what happens if they cannot reach an agreement with their spouse on the terms of the divorce. If this happens, the “uncontested” divorce quickly becomes a “contested” one and the client often has to pay additional fees for contested divorce representation.

5. Know whether your attorney incorporates recent technological advances into his or her practice.

Does the attorney use email? Believe it or not, there are still attorneys who do not have a computer in their offices let alone use document automation software or computerized case management systems. They rely upon more traditional methods of communication and this works well for them and their clients. However, with such methods comes the need for additional personnel, increased telephone expense, and a greater time investment than would exist if these technologies were used.

Document assembly software is simply software which generates the various forms required for a divorce filing from a central database of client information. Rather than entering the same information numerous times on numerous forms, the information is entered once and the documents are automatically populated with the requisite information. Document assembly software streamlines the document assembly process and allows attorneys to spend less time drafting paperwork and more time focusing on the legal issues in the case.

steven kokensparger, practices family law with the columbus, ohio firm of kokensparger ryan, llc. he is certified by the state of ohio as a family law specialist and is a frequent lecturer for the ohio state bar association. for more information, visit him at http://www.midohiodivorce.com

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Listed: January 4, 2009 8:08 am