Five Ways to Save Time and Money in Your Divorce
We all know that the divorce process has the potential to be expensive and time-consuming. We have heard the horror stories from family and friends. We have read about lengthy and messy celebrity breakups and we have seen dramatic Hollywood depictions of legal wars of attrition. But does it have to be that way? Here are five tips that can help you navigate around some of the worst consequences of a marital dissolution.
- Start off on the right foot. How you handle the beginning of the process will undoubtedly set the tone for the duration. Try your best to strike an amicable and cooperative note with your spouse at the outset, and make it clear that you'll always consider litigation as your last option. Choose your words carefully. Make sure to learn what her greatest post-divorce fears are (perhaps having a flexible custodial schedule, staying in the marital home, financial assistance for continuing education and training, etc.), so you and your attorney can prepare a settlement proposal that addresses those concerns in a specific manner. Although perhaps much easier said then done, it can pay dividends for you to learn what motivates your spouse and how she's approaching the process. Although this tactic is very much in your own self-interest, the byproduct will be an appreciative spouse (or at least a less openly hostile one).
- Meet with an attorney, at the very least for an initial consultation. There is truly no compelling reason for you to avoid talking with an attorney as you begin your divorce process. Many attorneys offer a commitment-free one-hour consultation for a low flat rate, and what you can learn in an hour may be priceless. Many of my clients had glaring misconceptions at the outset about the application of Virginia law to the facts of their case. Oftentimes people rely on the advice of family and friends, who may have experienced very different fact patterns in their own lives. If you do not understand the parameters of your divorce and the prospects of various outcomes, you will fail to maximize your leverage (or in the alternative, you'll fail to know just how much leverage your spouse may have).
- Set the proper expectations for yourself and your spouse. I have seen many clients shoot themselves in the foot by over promising their spouse at the beginning of their case (perhaps out of guilt or exacerbation), only to reevaluate after reviewing the law or their finances. If you told your spouse that you'd cover the mortgage for ten years, without consulting an attorney or reviewing your portfolio, even though your spoken words are not binding, your spouse will expect you to follow through. A month later, if you offer to pay half the mortgage for five years, your collaborative opportunity may be dashed, any lingering trust may be gone, and you may need to prepare for a protracted divorce battle. The same can obviously be true for your own expectations, which may be out of whack with the current state of the law.
- Eliminate emotion from the equation. As hard as this may seem, you should treat the financial aspects of your divorce like a business transaction between two small companies. Generally speaking, the time, money and energy spent on emotional elements of your divorce will prove to be a waste. In theory, if both sides are represented by able counsel, and heed their advice, then it should be relatively simple to reach a fair resolution that takes into account the range of litigation outcomes and meets somewhere near the middle.
- If possible, prepare a settlement offer early, before litigation takes off. As soon as a divorce lawsuit is initiated, there are many expensive and time-consuming things that must be done, all of which take you further away from resolving your case. Pleadings must be filed and deadlines must be met, discovery issued and trials scheduled. Preliminary skirmishes often lead to the filing of various motions. You will be meeting, having teleconferences and emailing with your attorney, all of which cost money. The attorneys will be so busy doing their due diligence on relatively inconsequential issues that settlement will be relegated to the back burner until shortly before trial, which can often be a year or more after an initial filing. Fling a fault-based Complaint for Divorce, alleging adultery, cruelty or desertion, may only drive you further from settlement, and further from the closure that will allow you to move on with your life. Instead, with the right approach, you can utilize the leverage of your spouse's bad behavior at the negotiating table, without filing a single document or conducting a single deposition.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Smith is a family law attorney at Livesay & Myers, P.C. An attorney since 2005, he is one of the firm's most experienced Fairfax divorce lawyers, having litigated every type of family law case in the courts of Northern Virginia.
Matthew Smith can be contacted by phone at (703) 865-4746 or or Visit Web Site
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