Whether you are far into the divorce process or are just dipping your toe in the water, you likely already know that attorneys may be a necessary part of the process.
As critical as they may be during the finalization of your divorce, they are professionals who have the potential to profit from your emotions. When your emotions make it difficult to sort out your case, you can quickly see your bill going up.
Unfortunately, when all is said and done, some divorce attorneys may try to manipulate your emotions to score a higher paycheck. Your relationship with your attorney can be compared to relationships with other professionals (e.g., your plumber, your accountant, and even your personal trainer). You hired them to complete a specific job, and you need to manage your relationship with them accordingly.
Want to know how to respond more effectively in each situation? Here are a few items that attorneys tend to focus on:
1) Your attorney wants you to focus on smaller items.
In the end, does it really matter which spouse got the spatula or the serving spoons? Do not allow your attorney to distract you by focusing on items that are of inconsequential value. It could take forever to divide up each item within the household, especially if you have a vast amount of bric-a-brac.
Every item that you and your spouse argue over adds expensive minutes to your attorney’s final bill. The reality is that paying your attorney to split up these insignificant items will likely cost more than those items are truly worth.
Instead, you need to focus on which items are priorities for you. If the dining room table that your great grandfather made has extreme sentimental value for you, make sure to put it on your settlement list. However, if you could care less about the ceramic carafes your spouse uses for coffee, there is no point in arguing about them.
Because attorneys are paid by the hour, the longer you and your spouse spend fighting over trivial items, the more you will both be paying your attorneys. Try to focus on the big picture, and settle amicably with your spouse (if possible). Keeping open, healthy communication with your spouse can allow you to quickly and efficiently divvy up those household items, without costly over-involvement from your divorce attorney.
2) Your attorney encourages you to discuss emotional details.
Does it really matter what the last intense argument you had with your spouse was? If the details do not specifically pertain to the case and questions at hand, then they do not need to be discussed with your attorney. Your attorney is not your therapist; he or she is not specially trained to help you sort out any lingering emotional drama that you may be experiencing about the dissolution of your marriage.
When you find yourself recounting the latest episode that proves your spouse’s incompetence, stop immediately. If you find yourself needing to spend those precious, expensive hours with your attorney detailing the drama, it is time for you to consider other outlets for your frustration. Hire a therapist who can help you work through the situation, or head out for a drink with your friends. Either way, it is likely to be both more cost-effective than venting to your attorney.
3) Your attorney wants you to go to trial, instead of taking the settlement.
When you and your spouse can reach a reasonable settlement, you might be tempted to sign on the dotted line. However, what happens when your attorney insists that you go to trial? Attorneys will sometimes lobby for this next step because it adds a hefty number of hours onto their final bill. Reaching a reasonable settlement makes going to trial an unnecessary expense.
As we discussed in the first section, amicably sorting out your settlement with your spouse can save you a ton of money. If you can reach an agreement with him or her, you will save money upfront, and you will not be leaving the situation in the hands of a judge (who could rule against you). An amicable resolution could save you a ton of attorney fees and court fees.
Make sure that you understand all of the options available to you. Mediation, collaborative divorce, and settlement are less expensive options than going to trial. If your attorney encourages you to go to trial, but you believe you can settle in less time via one of these other avenues, do not hesitate to speak up for yourself. You should be comfortable voicing your opinion with any professional that you hire. After all, you are the one who issues his or her paycheck at the end of the day.
Remember that Divorce is a Transaction
Do not forget that divorce is little more than a business transaction. As you divide up your assets and finances from your married life, try to keep your emotions surrounding the process from interfering. Take care of yourself as you need to (by venting to friends or hiring a therapist), but do not allow your feelings to sway your decision-making during the divorce process.
The goal is not to make your spouse suffer, but to make sure that you both get an equitable settlement. An attorney can capitalize on the emotional turmoil you are going through, which could cause you to fork over more money than you anticipated. Play it smart; know in advance when you are being manipulated into increasing your attorney’s billable hours.
Your attorney is a professional that you have hired to protect your interests and help you obtain what you deserve during your divorce. You should feel comfortable and confident about speaking your mind and managing the relationship you enacted. You should be in charge of your attorney during your divorce.