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I was looking at Avvo today and noticed a question:  Is it expensive to get a divorce?  So many people have no idea about the general costs of litigation, which includes divorces.  Sometimes, because people don’t understand litigation, they wind up making the divorce more expensive.

Contested divorces are “expensive” in that they will run you the price of a car.  Now what type of car depends on the situation.  I’ve resolved “contested” divorces for as little as $1500 and as much as $20000 with a complicated trial.  “Contested” simply means the initial divorce is filed with a grounds for divorce, and that when the divorce is filed the parties are not in agreement.  Sometimes, it just takes a few phone calls with the other attorney to resolve everything.  Other times, it is a huge drawn out battle.

With a contested divorce, you are paying for an attorney’s time.  Large bills can be the result of several different things, or a combination of the following:

  1. Motion practice:  every time we have to appear in court on a motion, whether you filed it or the other side filed it, you are paying for the time it takes to draft the motion, file the motion, prepare for the motion hearing, and then the motion hearing itself.  Some motions are resolved in 15 minutes, but sometimes on large dockets especially in Davidson County or Williamson County, your attorney can be there for hours and you will be billed for the entire time the attorney is there since they are there on your case and not in their office working on other cases.
  2. Discovery: discovery can be a large expense for people with businesses or multiple accounts or worse, discovery can be a large expense when one of the parties is not forthcoming with discovery.  If you do not fully answer discovery, your attorney will be required to spend large amounts of time having to supplement your discovery responses to avoid compels and sanctions.  If the other side does not comply, your attorney will be forced to spend the same large amounts of time trying to drag the discovery responses out of them.  Also, depositions, another part of discovery, are generally needed once you determine that you are going to a trial, and normally cost $1500 per deposition after preparation time and court reporter fees.
  3. Communications: This one is tricky because your attorney wants to hear from you.  If we don’t hear from you we are going to assume you are doing okay.  We don’t want you to not call us when something happens because you are scared of your bill.  That being said, if you call or email once a day when nothing is happening, you are going to have a bad time when you get that bill.
  4. Failing to Resolve the Matter in Mediation:  If you don’t settle the matter in mediation, or you are not very close, your attorney is going to have to ramp up for trial and your divorce is going to go from a used VW to a Lexus pretty quick.  It is usually after mediation has failed that depositions start happening.  Furthermore, this means you are preparing for trial.  If you are in Davidson County, Judicial Settlement Statements will need to be written (and take several hours) and Judicial Settlement Conferences will occur (and take several more hours) so you will have one more good shot at settlement, but typically these are set by the court so close to the trial date that trial prep has already begun.  If you go to a trial, your attorney will typically spend a significant amount of time drafting your trial brief and preparing for trial, not to mention going to the trial itself.  That is a lot of legal hours to pay for, and is even worse if you have expert witnesses.
  5. Emergency Actions: Emergency actions can be quite pricey.  If at all possible, plan in advance so things are not an emergency.  If you know you want to take your child to Disney Land while the divorce is planning, don’t wait two weeks before the vacation to ask your attorney to get you permission to take the children.  Sometimes emergencies cannot be helped.  If a child is in danger, or a spouse just entered a contract to sell your home in violation of the statutory injunction, you have to ask ASAP and accept the costs that come with the attorney having to cancel appointments or spend two hours in court trying to catch a judge to get a signature on an attachment.  However, you can act in advance to make sure issues are resolved timely and most economically.  You don’t want to spend all your money paying your attorney to put out fires when you can prevent the fire from being lit in the first place.

At the end of the day, some of the divorce cost is up to you, but some of it is out of your control.  You can’t chose who your spouse is going to hire for their attorney, and whether or not its someone who loves to file motions or prefers to settle things out of court.  Further, you can’t control whether or not your spouse acts reasonable and settles for an appropriate agreement.  However, you can control your own actions and behave reasonably with regards to communications and court appearances to keep your legal fees down.