Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about divorce and divorce representation:
Q. How much will it cost to get a divorce?
A. There is no standard answer to that question, although it is one almost everyone asks. Just as every couple, and every troubled marriage, is different, so too are their divorces.
For that reason, we never estimate the cost to handle a divorce for any potential client until we have first met with them to discuss their situation and have understood what they are trying to achieve. We do this during the ½ hour initial consultation, during which we identify what the initial retainer will be to begin working on their case. Even so, we cannot guarantee that the total cost will not exceed the initial retainer because the amount of time needed to bring a case to conclusion varies wildly from case to case. However, we work hard with clients to assist them in being a judicious user of our time and we keep them constantly apprised of how costs are progressing.
All that said, the following will try to provide some perspective on what affects the cost of a divorce. The first thing to keep in mind is that every dollar spent on the divorce comes right out of the “marital pot” (unless you have a rich uncle willing to pick up the tab!) and, thus, is one less dollar to divide between the two participants, or to spend on their children.
By far, the largest expense in a divorce is the attorney’s fees, although cases with complex issues can also expend significant amounts on experts such as child psychologists, business valuation experts, and real estate appraisers, with each side hiring their own set of experts. Since virtually all attorneys bill based upon the time spent on a case, cases that take the most attorney time cost the most.
So, you’re probably asking, what take so much time? Here is a short list
- Complex cases cost more than simple ones. Two people married for a short period of time with no children and very few assets and both able to support themselves after the divorce will almost always be a lot less costly than one involving two people that are both business owners with extensive property holdings and several children, some with special needs.
- Uncooperative, secretive and/or dishonest participants. Reputable divorce attorneys and judges, of which there are plenty of both, will not bring a divorce to a conclusion until they are convinced that there has been a complete and honest rendition of the relevant facts. It is their duty and it is the law. This includes full and truthful disclosure of all property & assets, debts, income, expenses, the needs of the couple’s children, marital “misconduct” by either party etc.
Straightforward, potentially less costly cases turn expensive when one or both participants withhold facts or provide misleading information. When that occurs, time-consuming methods have to be employed, such as subpoenaing employers, banks, brokerage firms as well as deposing the participants and other witnesses under oath. Substantial amounts of time must then be spent poring over the records retrieved and the testimony received to piece together a fact pattern that a participant was intentionally trying to obscure.
- Animosity, needless contentiousness by the parties or their lawyers. When a marriage fails, a certain amount of hurt, anger and resentment is normal. A capable divorce lawyer understands this and realizes that a client, or an adversary, that fails to get beyond these feelings will inevitably increase the cost of that divorce without any appreciable benefit to themselves, and sometimes to their own detriment, such as when a judge penalizes one participant for needlessly running up the cost of the case for the other side.Cynthia Fox’s ConstructiveDivorce® Reduces the Financial and Emotional Costs of Divorce
We have always believed there was a better way and for that reason we pioneered an approach called the ConstructiveDivorce® that helps our clients move onto the next stage of their life with their financial and emotional resources intact rather than putting them to waste trying to “get even” or win the last fight with their spouse.
Unfortunately, too many lawyers also seem needlessly angry and difficult when handling a divorce. Perhaps, it is because divorce is only a small part of their practice and they are not used to the stress this type of case generates. Or, maybe, it’s because they dislike and resent having to handle a divorce case at all. Whatever the reason, uncooperative and contentious attorneys increase the cost of a divorce much more so than a lawyer that works cooperatively and productively with their client, the other side and the court.
Cynthia Fox has been handling divorce cases and other family law matters for over 25 years and it is the only thing this firm does. Anyone who has met her even once quickly appreciates her competence, professionalism and positive approach.
- Cases that settle before trial cost less than those that are tried. Every divorce case is assigned to a specific judge and court in the county where the divorce is pending, and it is that judge and court that has to approve the divorce and issue the final decree and accompanying order(s). There are two basic paths for getting to that milestone.
One, the preferred and less costly way, is for the parties to work through their attorneys (see Divorce Representation), or with each other with a mediator (see Divorce Mediation), or even on their own without any outside help at all, to reach agreement on all the issues required by law to dissolve their marriage. These agreements are then formed into a written separation agreement that is presented to the judge for his/her approval.
However, when the parties are unable to reach agreement, the case then is taken to trial before that judge. Preparing for and trying a case greatly increases the amount of time a lawyer has in a case and can easily add 50% or more to the legal fees already accrued until then.
For that reason, our ConstructiveDivorce® approach is designed to enhance the prospect for settling a case, rather than trying it. For example, we work very hard with our clients to help them identify their goals and priorities for the divorce and the next stage of their life in order to make sure we are focusing our resources and their funds on positively resolving the issues most important to them. On an on-going basis, we assess which issues are worth the cost of arguing over and which are not.
We get up to speed very quickly on our cases so that we are able to present the other side with a Settlement Proposal early on. In doing so, we are able outline the terms upon which our client is willing to bring the marriage to an end, and, hopefully, encourage the other side to do the same.
Lastly, we do all that we can to keep the focus on the future, to keep the process constructive, and to eliminate the needless bickering, foot-dragging, and stonewalling that drives up costs and can harden sides so much that a trial becomes inevitable.
Q. Must someone have an attorney in order to get a divorce?
A. No, individuals can represent themselves in a divorce (called “pro se”). In fact, St. Louis County facilitates this with its Family Court Resource Center, which I wrote about in a Suburban Journal Fox Family Files column. They will provide those without lawyers the forms that need to be completed and guidance, but not legal advice, on how they are to be filled in.
However, obtaining a fair and equitable divorce often requires more than simply completing court-provided forms. Many divorces, even for those with modest financial resources, still present one or two potentially complex issues that would best be resolved with the aid of a qualified attorney. For example, when there are children born of a marriage, the law requires a parenting plan conforming to its requirements that is in the best interests of the children. Or, did one of the spouses or both earn an interest in a retirement plan during the marriage that should be divided between the parties?
Even a single consultation can be helpful to a budget-constrained client in identifying their options and rights as they contemplate a divorce and what they should do to protect their interests.
We offer a unique approach that we call the ConstructiveDivorce® that reduces the financial and emotional costs of a divorce by focusing clients on what they need for the next stage of their life, rather than continuing to fight about the past. To that end, we assist our clients in identifying what is most important to them and then make sure that our resources, and theirs, are aimed on those priorities.
Divorce Mediation Reduces the Cost and Time It Takes for a Divorce
Cynthia Fox is also a court-approved and experienced divorce mediator. Divorce Mediation can greatly reduce the cost of a divorce by getting the lawyers out of the way so the parties can work directly with each other, with the aid of the mediator, to resolve the issues necessary for an equitable divorce that will be accepted by the court. (see Divorce Mediation).
Q. How long will it take to obtain a divorce?
A. The least amount of time, by statute, is 31 days after the divorce has been filed with the court. Those situations are extremely rare. More typically, a divorce that “settles” between the parties without having to go to trial takes about 8 months. A divorce that requires a trial to be concluded will take about 12 months, and if that outcome is then taken to the Court of Appeals, this can add up to another 12 months.
The factors that contribute to the cost of the divorce, as discussed in the first frequently asked question, also tend to lengthen its duration.
Q. What determines where the divorce takes place? Does it have to be in the county where you were married?
A. In Missouri, the divorce can filed and heard in the county where either party resides, or by mutual consent, in any county within the state.