Going through a divorce can be a very scary time in one’s life. It is often times an emotional experience, and sometimes a scary one. Every aspect of your life is subject to change, from how much of your income and assets you get to keep, to how often you will be able to see your children. In addition to that, you have to navigate the complicated family court system in New Jersey and need an attorney as your guide. The following is a list of tips that can help keep your attorney’s fees to a minimum:
1. E-mail is a great mode of communication with your attorney, but it can become very expensive as attorneys usually bill per e-mail and by the minute and hour. In order to save on fees, gather your thoughts and send one e-mail addressing all of your questions. If your questions are complicated, pick up the phone and talk to your attorney instead. Schedule one set time, perhaps weekly, to address all concerns. An e-mail exchange is often more costly and time-consuming than a five to ten minute call.
2. Follow instructions and pay attention to deadlines. A good attorney will give you a packet at an initial consultation that contains questionnaires you need to complete so that the appropriate documents can be filed with the family court. This will seem overwhelming, and you will likely question why all of the information is necessary. You will need to gather tax returns, pay stubs, account statements and more. Gather everything that you can, complete the documents to the best of your ability, and schedule one appointment to review the documents with your attorney. The more homework you do, the better your attorney will be able to represent you, and the less time he or she will spend doing it! Getting the information to your attorney as quickly as possible will maximize the amount of time your attorney has to produce the best product.
3. Make a list of all of the things that are most important to you in your divorce case. Also, draft a “narrative” that highlights the most important facts that you think your spouse is likely to raise in your divorce case and your “response.” Do you have a pension that you are afraid of losing? Is your spouse addicted to drugs or alcohol and a danger to the children? Are you afraid that you will not have enough money to live after you pay alimony and child support? All of these questions should be on your list for one comprehensive appointment with your attorney.
4. Pick your fights carefully. This might be the most important tip of all. Undoubtedly, at least once in your case, you will get the feeling that you are giving in on everything and your spouse is giving in on nothing. Rest assured that he or she is likely saying the same thing. I explain to my clients at the beginning of every fight that it is important to engage in a cost benefit analysis. What will it cost me, in dollars and stress, if I take up this fight in Court, and is it worth it? This is a question that you should be addressing with your attorney.
5. Don’t be ashamed to enlist the help of professionals. Whether it is a therapist, financial planner, accountant or spiritual advisor, professionals can help you organize your thoughts and demands, and manage your emotions, so your lawyer can be a better advocate.
There are some cases that are so complex that you will need to have frequent contact with your attorney. However, in most cases, this list can help streamline the legal services you require to get you through your divorce.
John E. Clancy, Esq.