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What Makes Divorce Expensive?

Most everyone knows that divorce is an expensive process, even by legal standards. However, the reasons that divorce is expensive aren’t as simple or clear-cut as people think they are, so I think it’s worth discussing how the costs mount up for clients during a divorce.

Part of the expense does, of course, come from lawyers being necessary for many divorces to occur. Even a “kitchen table” divorce, in which couples work out settlement terms on their own, normally involves lawyers to make the divorce official – and can certainly use a lawyer’s eye to make sure the settlement is doing what the couple thinks it’s doing. Some lawyers charge more than others, which typically has to do with experience, expertise, and the degree of difficulty they’re willing to take on.

But lawyers can also help their clients keep costs down by having a team of competent staff members working on the case. In my office, for example, we have paralegals and administrative assistants who handle most initial drafting of documents, talking with clients, gathering information, photocopying, preparing documents for court filing, and other elements of a case that don’t require a lawyer. Even though I’m the only person giving legal advice to my clients, and I’m the only person who can go to court on my clients’ behalf, I’m far from the only person working on a case. Everyone down the line has a lower hourly rate than mine.

Another part of the expense comes from how cooperative or uncooperative the various participants in a divorce might be. If the divorcing couples have differences that they’re unwilling to compromise on, or if the lawyer for the other party is being difficult or obstructionist or unreachable, it can slow the pace of the divorce down, and it can require more work on my part to move the case forward. The courts can also play a role in the cost – for example, if there’s a trial date set that no one wants, it requires energy (and billable time) to get that date changed to something that works better for everyone.

But arguably the most integral variable in raising the cost of a divorce is emotion. Divorce, in and of itself, is usually not a complicated legal proceeding. The great majority of cases are resolved before they go to trial, involving a negotiated settlement that divorcing couples and their lawyers sign off on.

However, getting to that settlement can be incredibly taxing. Some people get frustrated that they can’t get a divorce moving forward fast enough, whereas others aren’t quite ready for the inevitable divorce and seek to stall it. Some people want a counselor as well as a lawyer and will lean on their lawyers to help them get through an emotional rough patch. Some people are angry, seek revenge and retribution, and find lawyers who are willing to help them use legal means to engage a soon-to-be-ex through seeking unnecessary temporary orders, making the discovery process more formal, or more expanded than necessary, or other litigation tricks and treats.

So, this all adds up to a divorce being expensive – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. In my next blog article, I’ll take about ways to decrease the cost of a divorce.