Hey you, Mr. Middle-Aged Man sitting in the third row wearing the Titleist hat and regretting not putting on the sunscreen yesterday while you were spraying golf balls all over your local municipal golf course. I’ve seen that look before. Hell, I wore it for months myself. You’re getting divorced and the ensuing custody battle has drained your checking account quicker than a cracked pipe at SeaWorld. Sit back and take it from someone who lived through it first-hand — representation is costly.
It’s often the first question people think about when considering a divorce – how much will it cost? Some attorneys don’t schedule a lunch appointment without finding someone to bill for it. To them, your best interest only comes in the form of currency. Understandably, attorneys expect payment for their services, but, in my own divorce experience, how much you’re willing to pay can dictate your “best” interest. Sob stories can just get you voicemail next time you call to schedule a meeting.
I can only speak from the perspective of a divorcing dad doing all he can to get 50/50 custody (which can be very difficult when courts are involved and you are male), but here are my tips for handling your divorce without losing an arm and a leg paying attorney fees.
1. Accept That Your Attorney & Your Ex’s Attorney May Be Friends
Attorneys generally have a “professional” respect among each other. They may talk bad about the opposing attorney to your face, but there is a good chance after a little digging around on the internet you are going to see any two attorneys hobnobbing at some bar association banquet.
2. Limit the Phone Calls
Whether your attorney is friendly with opposing counsel or not, it’s still a good idea to give your attorney ZERO reason to contact the other attorney unnecessarily. Remember, your attorney will likely bill you for that 20-minute phone call.
3. Email Only When Absolutely Necessary
Speaking of it, unless you catch your ex holding your child hostage in a war zone, limit email communications, even with your own attorney. Instead, keep notes and send a weekly or even monthly summary. Emailing your attorney every time you get a bright idea can to cost you $20-$30 a pop. I don’t care if you are laying out a defense strategy that will be taught at the Harvard Law Review or telling your attorney “Thank You” for doing their job. Flattery may get you nowhere but further in debt. (Been there, done that and have the T-shirt to prove it!) And hunt around the internet. There are many third-party apps that will keeps track of all the crucial information for you at a fraction of the cost of having your attorney do this for you (or even for free).
4. Understand All the Costs of Mediation Before Agreeing to It
Depending on the laws in your state or country, mediation can get pretty pricey. In my experience, mediation is the gift that keeps on giving for attorneys. You will likely wind up paying your attorney their hourly rate PLUS half the cost of the mediator (usually another attorney). I advocate taking your chances in court — again you are dealing with two people that make more money the longer you sit in mediation. Take it from me and the millions of other guys I suspect spent a fortune getting the same exact thing they would have going in front of the bench.
5. Know That Talking to Your Ex Through the Lawyer Can Cost You
If your divorce is about as amicable as an Israeli-Palestine peace agreement, you can bet your lawyer is eventually going to suggest/demand that any communication with your soon-to-be ex go through them. But, remember pal, ANY communications with your lawyer can cost money, so try to tune out potential arguments with your ex and, even if you are in the right about an issue, just document it and maybe it will pay off in the long run. (Remember, too, the urge to call your ex every nasty name in the book may be tempting, but in today’s digital age screen images of emails and text messages are hard to explain away, so refrain from sending profanities your ex’s way.)
I stress again do not get caught in the trap of communicating with the ex through a lawyer. Fellow dad, I get it. I’ve been there and I’ve got the scars to prove it. This new world of going through a divorce involves calculated moves and you can forget common sense.
6. Accept That Custody Is Going to Be a Costly Battle
If you are just dealing with a divorce with no kids, congratulations, you have saved yourself a few thousand dollars immediately. Unfortunately, for many of us, that isn’t the case. You can kick, scream, write a daily letter to the editor of your local newspaper and you still may not wind up with, at the minimum, 50/50 custody. The family law system does not tend to favor a father and your lawyer likely knows this. I’m not saying accept less custody than you are seeking (I didn’t), but be prepared for many empty meetings with your attorney telling you to take the deal you are offered. Good luck is my advice, again I’m not telling you to punt, but be forewarned. Unless your pockets are very deep, this could potentially come up fruitless.
[Editor’s Note: Remember, divorce can wreak havoc on your finances and your credit. You can monitor any joint accounts as you go through the process by pulling your credit reports for free each year and viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.]
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.