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Legal Fees & Affordable Alternatives to Traditional Divorce

You should consider hiring an attorney even though the law does not require an attorney to represent you in a divorce. Many issues and procedures involved in a divorce may be missed or not timely addressed in the divorce without an attorney. Even in an amicable divorce, an attorney can help assure that the procedural requirements are timely met and that nothing is omitted from the final settlement agreement. In addition, the attorney can advise the client of his or her rights under the law absent the terms of any agreement the parties may have reached on their own. Finally, the attorney can advise the client the application of the law to the terms the parties reached on their own and any potential mistakes the parties may have made in reaching their own agreement. For example, the parents may have agreed that child support would be never modified, but the law does not allow non-modifiable child support, and a judge would likely deny this provision of the parties’ agreement.
It would be unethical for one attorney to represent both parties to a divorce, even if the parties have a joint interest in seeking the divorce and are amicable. The nature of the legal conflict is inherent in the position of the parties to a divorce and likely cannot even be waived by the parties. The best situation is for each party to have his or her own attorney, though nothing would prevent one spouse from hiring an attorney while the other spouse chooses to act without an attorney. The hired attorney can still meet and discuss the divorce with the unrepresented spouse, but with the understanding that ultimately that attorney’s duty and obligation is solely with the interests of the spouse who hired him or her. In this situation, the unrepresented spouse could always hire an attorney during the divorce process or hire an attorney for a single consultation to review the terms of a proposed settlement agreement.

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.

“Legal fees” are the fees charged by the attorneys and other professionals in the law firm who bill for their time dedicated to your case. This would include the attorney’s hourly rate as well as other attorneys or paralegals in the law firm who work on your case. Most attorneys will bill in 6 minute increments. You should ask the attorney what is his or her minimum billing increment. NOTE: Attorney Krimmer’s minimal billing increment is 6 minutes. “Legal costs” are the expenses involved in the client’s case that are not based on the attorney’s time. Examples of “legal costs” include filing fees with the courthouse, service of pleading fees, copy charges, postage charges, and expert fees. Examples of some experts that may be required in a divorce case are psychologists, real estate appraisers, business valuation experts, accountants, medical doctors, and a vocational evaluator (an expert who offers an opinion of a person’s earning capacity).
Litigation is the means by which parties and their attorneys submit evidence at a hearing or trial, after which the judge makes a binding decision on the parties. The litigation process is often portrayed in movies and television with witnesses on the stand, closing statements by counsel, and a judge ruling on whether to “sustain” or “overrule” objections related to evidence. Unlike movies and television, the litigation process is far more time-consuming, involves a great deal of preparation, and is rarely “exciting,” although the results are critical the lives of the litigants and their children. In Wisconsin, divorces are heard by a judge only and not by a jury.
A “collaborative divorce” generally reflects a type of legal practice known as “collaborative law.” It is intended to enable couples who have agreed to separate or end their marriage, but who want to work collaboratively with their lawyers and other family professionals in order to avoid the uncertain outcome of court and to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children, without the threat of litigation. The parties sign a contract stating that neither party will seek to litigate an issue in their divorce (i.e. seek a hearing in which a judge determines the outcome), and both parties will stay committed throughout the divorce process of reaching an agreement on the terms related to the divorce. A collaborative divorce is best suited for parties who have minor children together, who trust the other party to make a complete and accurate disclosure of the person’s income, assets, and liabilities, and when there is a willingness to rely upon the recommendations of professionals such as therapists, financial advisors, and attorneys. The benefits of a collaborative approach to divorce is that there are fewer oppositional stances, and there is a commitment to be fair and reasonable for both parties. Most importantly, it is best for the children. When used by both parties and attorneys in good faith, it can also reduce the cost of the divorce by relying upon the same experts to assist in determining child custody, child placement schedules, what income is available for support, and the valuation of property. The collaborative process is a voluntary process and both parties must agree to it. Although not required, the clients may find it best for each spouse to work with attorneys who is well versed in collaborative law. You can find a list of attorneys who practice collaborative law at the website of The Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin. NOTE: Attorney Krimmer is a member of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin and practices collaborative law throughout the state of Wisconsin. The collaborative process only succeeds if both parties remain committed to resolving any legal disputes outside of court. If, at any time during the process, a party seeks a hearing or a decision from the judge in the case, the collaborative process terminates. Once the collaborative process terminates, the attorneys who represented the parties during the collaborative process can no longer represent either client, so the parties must either proceed unrepresented or hire new lawyers.
A “cooperative divorce” adopts some practices and approaches similar to collaborative law model in that it is based on the underlying goal of reaching a settlement and avoiding unnecessary conflict, but the parties reserve the right to litigate any disputed issues. And if an agreement is not reached, either party may litigate the divorce with the same attorneys. A list of attorneys that practice cooperative divorce can be found at the website for The Divorce Cooperation Institute of Wisconsin. NOTE: Attorney Krimmer practices cooperative law throughout the state of Wisconsin.

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.

The mediation-arbitration process has many different manifestations, but in the context of divorce in Dane County and its surrounding areas, the process is similar to mediation in practice with one important distinction. The arbitrator will spend time working with the parties and attorneys towards a settlement in separate rooms. Unlike mediation, if the parties are unable to reach a settlement on their own, the arbitrator makes a binding decision on the disputed issues. The arbitrator has a great deal of authority and discretion in making the decision. The ability to overturn or appeal the arbitrator’s decision is quite limited versus the right of appeal that accompanies a trial judge’s decision. Nevertheless, many people prefer the mediation-arbitration because the process is quicker, less expensive, and more informal than traditional litigation. Mediation-Arbitration requires the consent of both parties to participate in the process.
The arbitration process is defined by the attorneys and the arbitrator and can be as formal as a traditional trial or as informal as settlement discussions with the arbitrator. The difference between “mediation-arbitration” and arbitration alone is that the arbitration process can be formal, albeit in a conference room versus a courtroom, and without any obligation of the arbitrator working with the parties to reach their own agreement. In this regard, it can be very much like a litigated trial, with the benefits of speed, confidentiality, limited appeal rights, and usually considerably less expense. Arbitration requires the consent of both parties to participate in the process.

“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.

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