Question: How do you plan and prepare for attorney fees in a divorce case?
Short answer: By creating a strategy on what issues in the divorce should settle, which ones likely will not and creating a settlement and litigation plan consistent with that strategy
If you are the lower income earner, you are concerned about how you’re going to afford the divorce. If you are the higher income owner, you are concerned about that and paying for your spouse’s attorney fees in the divorce. This can all be very stressful but don’t stress.
We wrote this article for both scenarios and with the hope that it will lay some foundation to help you plan and prepare before you get actual legal advice from an experienced family law attorney.
Can attorney fees in divorce cases be mitigated by settling certain aspects of it?
Step one for any experienced divorce lawyer is to determine what issues can be settled and what issues likely will not resolve without court intervention. This limits and possibly eliminates certain attorney fees in divorce cases.
If you have children and you expect the custody and visitation issues to proceed to a formal hearing, we have to break down and evaluate each issue about which you are concerned, whether it is wise to ask the Family Court judge for the appointment of a forensic psychologist or a lawyer for the children and what investigation (witness interviews, depositions, etc.) may be necessary to bring your custody issues to hearing.
We have seen the cost for such custody cases range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how serious the issues between the parents are. If there are allegations of drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse or serious child endangerment or neglect, then the appointment of a Family Court ordered investigator or the appointment of a Court expert may be necessary. If not, mediation and communication with the other parent or the other parent’s lawyer should be able to resolve most of the issues before spending thousands of dollars in Court.
The same rules apply if the issues in dispute are child support, alimony or property division.
Knowledgable divorce lawyers will tell you that child support and alimony are generally simple to figure out on a temporary basis and while the divorce case is pending because a computer program called dissomaster or x-spouse does the calculations for the judge. However, if one or both parents are self employed, then it is critical our divorce lawyers sit down with you and determine whether we can prove the truthful income with or without the assistance of a forensic accountant and what the amount of dispute is between you and your spouse regarding either of your incomes.
This communication early on and the “framing” of the issues can save thousands of dollars in attorney fees in divorce cases because, before we file the paperwork with the Orange County Family Court, we will know how far apart you and your spouse are regarding the issue of income and what investigation we must undertake before the Court orders support.
Are you the lower income or the higher income earner and how will that impact the attorney fees in the divorce?
Step two in every divorce case is determining who the higher income earner is and who should be making a contribution toward the other’s lawyer’s fees. This issue is critical to achieving what the California Family Code calls “parity” and equal access to the Court for each party.
If you are the lower income earner, our lawyers must evaluate how much your spouse makes, what assets are available and how much your spouse should contribute toward your lawyer’s fees in the divorce case. If you are the higher income earner, we must gauge your potential exposure to an attorney fee request from your spouse and ensure that you do not pay out any more than you reasonably should, if any.
Sometimes, assets or accounts need to be liquidated or divided to help with the lawyer’s fees. In such situations, our divorce lawyers will evaluate what assets or accounts exist, what is a fair division of them and we will, with your knowledge and consent, offer to your spouse or his or her lawyer a proposal. If they refuse, we bring the issue to Court.
Execution of the plan is a key component to keeping attorney fees in divorce cases low and manageable
Step three is execution.
All the planning in the world doesn’t help if you don’t follow through. We prefer to attempt to resolve issues before stepping into Court unless the issue is an emergency. Family Law judges like to see that the lawyers and spouses attempted to resolve the issues before taking Court time and that helps with any attorney fee request. We do that by taking reasonable positions and giving the case a chance to settle.
However, if your spouse and spouse’s lawyer take unreasonable positions and so long as you cooperate with us throughout the process, we do recommend you get to Court quickly to get the family law judge to make appropriate orders.
Contact us today for an affordable strategy session with one of our experienced family law attorneys. We will find solutions to your divorce and family law needs together.