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Legal Fees & Affordable Alternatives to Traditional Divorce
Three factors generally determine the cost of a divorce. The first factor is complexity. If a party is challenging a prenuptial agreement, or if a party is seeking an unequal division in the marital assets due to an inheritance, or if a party owns a closely-held business interest, these complexities can add to the cost of the divorce.
Second, even when there are no complex assets or legal issues, the cost of divorce can increase if the parties are hostile and adversarial. The more amicable and reasonable each party is in the divorce, the more likely the parties will be able reach a settlement agreement which greatly reduces the cost associated with a divorce.
Third, the amount of a client’s legal fees directly correlates with the amount of time that the client requires of the attorney. This is true even if there are no complex assets and the parties are quite amicable with one another. A client should always ask questions and seek clarifications regarding the attorney’s advice. However, most attorneys bill based on the time they dedicate to the client’s case -- which includes not only time when the attorney appears in court for the client, but also when the client meets with the attorney, sends or receives emails from the attorney, and when the client speaks to the attorney on the phone.
NOTE: If you find yourself contacting your attorney on almost a daily basis, you can expect your legal fees to be significant. The best way to minimize your legal fees is to make the best use of your attorney’s time by promptly replying to questions, organizing your thoughts and questions efficiently, and keeping the discussions to the legal issues that must be decided in your divorce.
Mediation is an “alternative dispute resolution” process in which the parties and their attorneys meet with a mediator who facilitates a settlement. In most divorce mediations, the mediator is another family law attorney or retired judge. The mediator does not represent or advocate for either party, but may offer insight or an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the person’s case.
The mediation process generally involves the attorneys and parties meeting in one conference room with the mediator. The mediator introduces himself or herself, explains the mediation process, and his or her role as mediator. Each party and attorney then separate into two conference rooms. The mediator travels between the two rooms with settlement ideas and offers. The party always has his or her attorney in the room to consult and offer advice. The mediation process continues until a settlement is reached or the mediator determines that an unbreakable impasse has occurred. The mediation can be as short as a few hours to extending over a period of several days.
If a settlement is reached, the parties usually sign a document detailing the terms of the settlement, known as a “Memorandum of Understanding.” One of the two attorneys will then rely upon the Memorandum of Understanding to draft a final Marital Settlement Agreement. The Marital Settlement Agreement will be far more detailed than the Memorandum of Understanding and will include provisions either required by law or often relied upon in a divorce.
If a settlement is not reached, the parties may proceed with litigation. The mediator cannot be called as a witness at trial and neither party introduce as evidence any offers or communications made during the mediation process at the trial.
NOTE: Attorney Krimmer is a strong proponent for mediation and often serves as a mediator for divorcing couples (with or without attorneys) and represents clients in the mediation process. Attorney Krimmer as consistently settled over 80% of his cases in mediation because of his thorough preparation and negotiation skills.
NOTE: Effective July 1, 2017, a mediator will be granted additional rights to assist parties in mediation by being permitted to draft forms and a Marital Settlement Agreement for the parties at the end of the mediation period. For more information about mediation, contact Attorney Christopher Krimmer.
“Limited scope services” is an option that allows the client to hire an attorney for a specific legal service only. Unlike an attorney who represents the client in the underlying divorce, the attorney may be hired to only review a proposed Marital Settlement Agreement, draft documents, appear for only one hearing, or provide ongoing consultations to a client throughout the person’s divorce. The attorney is not responsible for the entire case and would not receive communication or notices on behalf of the party, but would be available only for designated specific services. Each service is paid in full and the representation begins and ends upon the completion of the specified service.
The most significant benefit of “limited scope services” is that it is the most affordable of the representation options. The biggest disadvantage is that the attorney cannot advise the party on all aspects of the divorce since he or she is not privy to all the facts related to the divorce or what has occurred during the divorce process. In many instances an attorney hired to provide the limited scope service will be eventually be hired to provide full legal representation once the client recognizes the complexities in the law and the legal process.
NOTE: Not all attorneys provide limited scope services so a person interested in the service should verify that the service is even an option with a particular attorney. Attorney Krimmer will provide limited scope services in all family law matters. A reduced retainer fee is offered for limited scope services involving the drafting of documents, however, legal consultation fees are to be paid in full at the time of the consultation.