One Question, Three Lawyers
Dear Splitopia: How do I avoid spending all my money on a lawyer?
Michael Stutman, family lawyer, New York City: There are many ways you can help yourself keep your legal costs under control.
Don’t fight battles that are either unnecessary or that you know you can’t win.
For example, if you hold a job that takes you out of town for the better part of a month, and when you are in town, you work from eight to eight, don’t try to get sole custody of your children. By the same token, just because your soon-to-be- former spouse came home one night last month severely intoxicated, doesn’t mean he needs to be supervised when he spends time with your 10-year-old child.
Don’t have your lawyer spend hours, at whatever their hourly rate is, chasing pennies on principle.
Beth Henson, family lawyer, Denver, Colorado: The first thing that you want to ensure is that your attorney specializes in family law. Although many attorneys dabble in family law, they often end up costing more because they initially waste resources by handling issues and situations incorrectly, and then incur more fees fixing the problem. Many states have attorney organizations for lawyers that specialize in domestic relations, and some of these organizations require exams or other criteria for admittance, such as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which has state chapters.
Once you locate such an organization, look for attorneys within this group who highlight their collaborative and/or mediation experience as part of their marketing. These attorneys are usually more inclined to work toward settlement rather than heading straight down the litigation path, which is much more expensive.
Janice Green, family lawyer, Austin, TX: If you’re hiring a lawyer on retainer, have a clear, written fee and retainer agreement. If you don't understand something in the agreement, ask that attorney or another one who can review it. Then be sure your attorney is sending you periodic statements (no less frequently than monthly) so you can monitor the fees as you accrue them and avoid surprises.
Ask your attorney what you can do to minimize the costs. For example, talking first with the attorney's legal assistant, providing materials and time-lines to the attorney that are organized in a helpful manner, responding timely to requests for information, raising questions in writing rather than in phone calls, etc.
About our Panel:
Michael Stutman has more than 30 years of family law experience, handling both settlements and court trials. Michael is immediate past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, New York Chapter. He is also a Fellow of the Academy and serves on its National Board of Governors. Michael is also the author of Divorce in New York: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect (Addicus Books, 2013). You can contact him at Michael@sasllaw.com
Beth Henson is an attorney based in Denver, Colorado who specializes in divorce and other family law mediation. She was named the Best Lawyers' 2016 Denver Family Law Mediation "Lawyer of the Year" and selected as a Colorado Super Lawyer from 2009 – 2016. She speaks at many family law seminars and conferences, and has contributed to several Colorado domestic relations laws. From 2013-2015, she was the supervising attorney for the University of Denver's Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families. Find more at Hensonmediation.com.
Janice Green is a family law attorney who has been practicing in Austin, TX, for the past 35 years. She is the author of Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges (NOLO, 2013). She is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and has been named to Best Lawyers in America, and as a Texas Monthly Super Lawyer. For the past 10 years, she’s focused exclusively on collaborative divorce. Find more at janicelgreen.com.
And now, some legalese:
The information in this blog post is provided for general purposes only. It may not reflect the current law in your county and doesn’t replace legal advice. This post is not intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. No attorney-client relationship has been established by reading the post.