1. Choose an attorney who is experienced and settlement-oriented. Select an attorney with a style and approach that resonates with you. Make sure the attorney you choose is experienced in matrimonial and family law. Ideally, your attorney’s practice should be concentrated in this area. Ask questions to determine if the attorney’s approach is to immediately engage in “attack” on your spouse (which will most likely increase your legal fees with minimal gain) or whether the attorney will help you move forward to achieve your goals (which will ultimately save you time and money).
2. Instead of immediately entering the divorce litigation process, engage in mediation or the collaborative divorce process. In general, divorce litigation tends to be the most costly method of obtaining a divorce. Instead, opt for mediation or collaborative divorce. Mediation is a process in which you and your spouse reach an agreement on such issues as custody and parenting time of your children, alimony, child support, college expenses, division of assets and debt, taxes, and retirement. One of the most significant benefits of mediation is that it generally brings about communication in a way that helps you to work together as co-parents. Another important benefit is that settlements reached during mediation generally have a higher compliance rate because you and your spouse have created your own agreement. You still need to have an attorney prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement, but the legal fees tend to be much lower because your issues are already essentially resolved. Another alternative is to use the collaborative divorce process, which uses a team approach with a goal to settle all of your issues without going to court. Your team would include both attorneys, and could also include coaches, child specialists, financial advisors, forensic accountants or other professionals as appropriate to assist in resolving your unique issues. The fees spent in the collaborative divorce process tend to be much lower than in litigation mostly because you control the outcome.
3. Identify your most important goals and interests. Think about what is most important to you concerning your children as well as your long-term financial interests. For instance, do you want your children to have meaningful contact with both parents? Do you want to minimize outside child care? Do you want to have an agreement about how you and your spouse will pay for college for your children? Do you want to be able to retire at a particular age? Do you want to put off working full-time until your children complete a certain level of education? Maybe you want to be able to start a new career or get out of debt. Identifying your significant goals and interests early on will streamline the divorce process for you, saving both time and money. For additional examples of goals and interests, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Identify your spouse’s most important goals and interests. Talk to your spouse in an effort to learn what is most important to him or her. This can be extremely valuable information when negotiating.
5. Work with your attorney and/or mediator to generate creative ways to achieve your most important goals. Instead of blaming your spouse (which will drive up your legal fees with little, if any, positive outcome), brainstorm ways to achieve your most important goals and identify what additional resources you might need. Focus on creating a successful co-parenting arrangement with your children now and into the future.
6. Know your assets. Gather and organize important documents, such as bank and brokerage statements, property titles, insurance policies, 401(k) plans and IRAs, tax returns, mortgages, and medical records. Find out the approximate values of significant assets, held either individually or jointly with your spouse. This will minimize the need for extensive discovey, which will likely increase your legal fees.
7. Know your debts. Obtain your credit report and address any problems right away. Find out balances of significant individual and joint debts, including mortgage, credit cards, and loans. Again, this will minimize the need to pay your attorney to obtain this information in the discovery process.
8. Educate yourself. Ask your attorney to describe the divorce process in your state and/or research the divorce process, the terminology, and the options. You will be in a better position to advocate for yourself when you know the facts. This can save you both time and money.
If you would like additional information on this topic or to schedule a consultation, please call my office at 973-292-9090 or email me at email@example.com.