If your divorce attorney cares about your case, then he or she also should care about managing the attorney fees you spend on that case. By “care” we refer to spending attorney time wisely, keeping you in the loop on the divorce and reasonably attempting to work within your budget. A fourth aspect of managing attorneys fees which is often forgotten by many attorneys is communicating with the client when it appears that the fees will exceed that budget.
In this article, we will discuss the steps that you and your divorce attorney can take to manage attorney fees for your family law case.
As always, if you have any questions after reading this article, please contact us for an initial consultation with one of our experienced and knowledgeable lawyers.
Setting reasonable expectations with your divorce attorney
One of the first and most important aspects of managing attorneys fees is managing expectations.
If you walk into a divorce case with the expectation that whatever you believe is right or fair is what should occur, you may set yourself up for disappointment and, unfortunately, a very expensive lesson.
The reason you hire a divorce attorney is to have a dialogue and discuss the facts as well as the law that is applicable to your divorce case. Only after such a discussion can initial expectations be set and only after such a discussion can you and your divorce attorney come to an agreement on the goals that are consistent with those reasonable expectations.
A good way to spend and waste a lot of money on attorneys fees is for you to give your attorney carte blanche authority to do whatever he or she wants and let your attorney churn a file without regard to the facts, the law or the consequences.
Of course, no reputable or respected attorney would ever do such a thing or allow his or her client to do so. If the attorney you have hired does so, you should run the other way. Divorce attorneys who waste court time and their clients earnings and savings for nothing more than unnecessary billing and without trying to achieve a fair result consistent with the law are a scourge to the practice of law and should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, many of these types of lawyers prey on executive divorce in high asset cases and waste income and assets that the executive and his or her spouse have taken years to build.
Setting a reasonable budget with your divorce attorney
A budget does not mean a ceiling on attorney fees. Unless you have retained your attorney on a flat fee basis, there is no way any experienced and respected lawyer can tell you that your fees will not exceed a certain amount. The very nature of an hourly rates retainer is to only bill for the time spent on the divorce case. Since nobody has a crystal ball (despite what they may tell you) and cannot predict with certainty how your spouse will react during the divorce proceeding, there is simply no way to predict attorneys fees.
However, that does not mean a budget cannot reasonably be put together.
A divorce attorney and client should sit down and talk about the value of the assets that are at issue, the amount of support (both child support and alimony) that may be paid and engage in a cost versus benefit analysis regarding each of those assets and support issues.
In addition, if there are custody issues in the divorce case, the attorney and the client can sit down and decide what the core dispute between the parents are to determine whether or not the children’s best interest are in serious jeopardy or if the issues are minor enough to be able to worked out in negotiations.
All of these things allow for a reasonable budget to be set on the case. It allows your divorce attorney and you to set budgetary expectations of what the fees should be although not necessarily what the fees will be.
This also allows you and your divorce lawyer to regroup in the event your spouse acts inconsistent with what is expected or takes unreasonable positions which cause more litigation.
Talking about the big-ticket items with your attorney
The big-ticket items in a divorce case typically involve issues that require a significant time investment.
A common example of one of these is the appointment or retention of expert witnesses. Certain divorce cases require either the court’s appointment of an expert witness, such as a court appointed forensic psychologist for custody purposes, or the retention of a forensic accountant to do a controllable cash flow analysis for support purposes and/or business valuation. These experts cost money and whether you, your spouse or both of you are ordered to pay the costs will impact any budget you and your attorney have put together.
In addition, if there are unexpected modifications requested on issues such as custody or support, you or your spouse are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with domestic violence issues in the divorce, or there are needs for emergency family law orders, you and your attorney must regroup and discuss what impact, if any, these unanticipated events will have on your fees.
Again, this is not a discussion to try to predict the future. Instead, it is a reasonable and logical discussion, as any attorney and client should have, to decide what additional or different efforts should be undertaken and what the potential cost of that will be.
Seeking attorneys fees against your spouse
One often forgotten way to manage attorneys fees is to seek attorneys fees. The two most common examples are attorney fee requests as a result of your need and your spouse’s ability to pay and a request for sanctions against your spouse for conduct that has unreasonably increased the fees and costs of litigation in violation of California Family Code 271. These two methods are not the only way to seek attorneys fees in family court but they are the most commonly used.
When and how to seek attorneys fees is an issue we have discussed before. For a reference to previous articles we’ve written on seeking attorneys fees in a family law case, please click on the preceding link.
Managing communication between you and your attorney
Communication between you and your attorney is well within your control.
Panicking often, being very high maintenance and constantly needing reassurance can break you financially, just as fast as making every minor issue a major one can. The pain, anger and hurting associated with divorce causes some of this but so does not feeling in control.
Sooner or later though, a person going through divorce have to come to grips with the fact that he or she cannot control every aspect of the case and of his or her spouse’s actions. There simply is no reason to engage in any of this behavior or unnecessarily stress yourself out and cause yourself more fees by over communicating with your attorney. In fact, it can lead to the breakdown of the attorney-client relationship, which nobody wants.
The warning signs of over doing communication are calls or emails between you and your attorney on a near daily basis or several times per week on a consistent basis.
Most clients should communicate with their attorneys several times per month although there will be times where weekly communication (and even multiple communications per week) will be necessary.
The best attorneys don’t wait for their clients to call for a status update. Good divorce attorneys keep their clients updated on the family law case’s development as it occurs and engage in dialogue with the client when questions need answers.
Our divorce attorneys are a very good example of effective and efficient communication. We communicate with our clients by telephone and email on a regular basis, when there are recent developments or when we need to plan a strategy on the case.
Our attorneys help our clients manage their communication with us by contacting us when they have questions but also helping them understand when they are spending too much of their time and money over-communicating.
This type of “reality check” helps get our divorce clients back on track and refocused on strategy, budget, reasonable expectations and goals. We know divorce can be emotional and stressful and managing communication is a big part of managing a budget in an Orange County divorce case.
Our divorce attorneys will help you manage fees
It takes an experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney that has your best interests at heart to manage fees.
If you’re ready to get your case started on the right track, you can call and speak with one of our experienced divorce lawyers for an initial consultation. We will give you objective and reasonable advice so that you can make an informed decision on your next step.
You have more questions before you call? Please check out our FAQ section on child custody, child support, spousal support, the divorce process and more.