coParenting: Costs of a Custody Dispute
When interior designer and blogger Breegan Jane was separating from the father of her two children, she was adamant about one thing.
“I told my family and my ex that I wouldn’t be getting a lawyer,” she says. I didn’t want to FIGHT. I wanted to transition into what our new ‘Family’” would look like.”
In the middle of a full-scale remodel on her Los Angeles home, raising two boys under five, managing a podcast, a blog, and an interior design business, Breegan didn’t have the emotional capital to spend on a lengthy custody battle. It was about saving time, energy, and money that she could spend on her boys and her businesses. Transitioning quickly to a new normal with her coParent was paramount.
When she initially decided to separate from her ex, Breegan was nervous. She had seen what divorcing friends went through.
“The more you fight, the longer you disagree, the harder it is to resolve an issue without your attorneys,”
Breegan says. “Not to mention all the while you’re told ‘we will charge the funds to the other side if we WIN.’ Win what?! Win at ripping my family apart in Court?!”
She didn’t want to make an already challenging process litigious if she didn’t have to. And she was right to be wary. The financial and emotional investment required is costly. Let’s take a closer look.
While attorney fees vary by state, NOLO reports that the national average is an hourly rate of $250. In Los Angeles, where Breegan lives, legal representation can be especially expensive. “A good lawyer in California can be anywhere between $800-$1000 an hour,” she says.
NOLO reports that while the average American wedding costs $35,000, the typical divorce bill has climbed to a whopping $15,500. When children are in the picture, as is the case in 48% of divorces, the costs can climb even higher. Legal Match says that resolving parenting disagreements in Court can cost families up to $40,000. And the fees don’t stop there. Things like lost wages, parking fees, mileage, and court fees, typical expenses associated with litigating family law related disputes can add up quickly.
Attorneys and the Courts do serve an important purpose in certain situations, however. As Breegan learned, there is often no way around them. She was told the day before she was due in Court that her ex had hired an attorney, and so she was forced to hire one as well.
“I ran around Los Angeles trying to find someone who could represent me last minute,” Breegan says. “It wasn’t fun.”
Then there’s time. Time away from work and kids. Time spent on the phone with attorneys, in conference rooms, on phones calls, and in Court. Time stuck in traffic. In this day and age, who really has time to spare?
According to the results of a 2014 NOLO survey, the average time it takes to complete a divorce — from filing the petition to the final settlement or court judgment — was roughly 11 months. Cases that went to trial took, on average, close to 18 months to resolve, while the consumers who settled their issues were able to resolve their cases in nine months.
These figures relate only to initial divorce proceedings and the custody issues that come with them. Every day coParenting decisions like Parenting Plan and Holiday Schedule changes that could easily be handled with a mediator make an even longer process longer when litigated. It can take days or weeks to resolve schedule changes that could simply be solved in one conversation between coParents.
Even when parents are amicable, a change in family status is already a life-altering event for everyone – especially children. When parents become litigants and not coParents, it can heighten the tension in an already fragile situation. The mere idea of going to court is a stressful one for many.
In the end, Breegan was able to convince her ex to use a mediator. She says that switching to mediation saved her sanity and calls her mediator an oracle. Breegan believes that turning to mediation sparred her children the long and drawn-out litigation process, and helped her and her ex begin their new chapter as coParents.
“We don’t always get along,” Breegan says about the state of her relationship. “There are lots of issues there, but we’re trying.” With two active boys and a multi-faceted career, she’s thrilled to now be spending her resources on what matters most.