New Mexico District Judge Ann Kass wrote: “Litigation seduces people into fantasizing that there are magic solutions to their problems.”
A divorce is most often a life-jarring event that initially rips open our lives and impacts every future plan. Some are initially overwhelmed with feelings of rejection and the impossibility of making ends meet. Being in the midst of a divorce, it is easy to feel that no one is “fighting for me” – being left alone to absorb whatever pain or unreasonableness the other person sends our way.
So often that is where divorce attorneys come in.
Attorneys fight for their clients. They fight so that the client does not have to. In fact, it is the ethical obligation of a lawyer to work to secure the absolute best outcome for their client – without concern for how the other side is going to feel about it.
When a spouse or partner is overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty in the initial stages of a divorce this can seem like a godsend: someone clearly on your side, who will do the fighting and deal with the other person so that you do not have to. This is often the lure of divorce litigation.
It comes at a steep price however, both financially and emotionally. The costs are immediate and long term as well.
Financial Costs of Divorce Litigation
Since there is a tendency to focus on financial costs of things, we will first focus on that. Divorce litigation costs thousands of dollars. Estimates for combined legal fees of a litigation divorce easily amounts to $30,000 – and is often more!
The fees cover the basics: discovery, multiple phone calls between attorneys, emails, letters, meetings, court appearances, delays, and trials. In addition, costs for additional legal personnel are typically passed on to the client.
Attorney fees vary from lawyer to lawyer, but often average somewhere between $275 to $375 per billable hour (meaning that if both attorneys spend 40 hours on a case, the total attorney fees range from anywhere from $22,000 to $30,000). Attorney services are billed as they occur versus a summarization of all time spent in a month. A client who makes six brief calls over a month totaling 60 minutes, is likely going to find that the time is rounded up per call and amounts to more money than they were expecting. Finally, those who chose a divorce litigation should not expect a clear detailed accounting for each dollar spent, as bills are seldom itemized in that way. Questioning the billing during the case is likely a chargeable discussion as well.
In addition there are court costs to consider. A divorce trial adds attorney billable hours, including time spent waiting, filing fees, and other court-related costs to the final tally.
It is interesting that often couples will spend thousands of dollars by choosing to litigate their divorce just so that they can save some money in the divorce settlement: A savings that too often costs more than it is worth – and seldom provides the painless divorce solution that was sought in the first place.
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- The Single Worst Mistake