Value for Your Attorney Fees: Avoiding Future Disputes
The cost of divorce is top of mind for almost every client that I serve. In my experience the amount of income and net worth have very little impact on how much someone worries about this issue.
The reality is that many divorces involve complex emotional, financial, and legal issues and therefore take some time to problem solve to resolution. So, it is very important that clients get as much value from what they pay for their divorce process as possible.
One of the best ways that attorneys can add value to a client’s use of resources on their divorce is to help them avoid future expenditures on legal issues. When I was litigating adversarial family law cases in court, clients almost always grossly underestimated the amount that they would spend in the years after their first round of court hearings. This was because the adversarial nature of the court process planted seeds of anger, resentment, distrust, and vindictiveness that I knew would sprout into fields of future conflict. And, this future conflict often costs multiples of the amount spent in the initial round of conflict.
The best way to prevent this, in my experience, is to resolve the first round of conflict in a way that prevents, or at least greatly reduces the likelihood of future adversarial conflict that would require legal fees. That is essentially the main goal of Collaborative Law.
While this is a core tenet of my practice, it came to mind most recently while reading a study on shared parenting which stated:
“Shared custody – like any other parenting arrangement – can work well or poorly depending on a range of factors. Moreover…life changes may eventually present new challenges, and helping parents understand and be more prepared for future issues that would need to be addressed if they are to continue sharing parenting could prevent future difficulties.” The Growth in Shared Custody in the United States: Patterns and Implications, Meyer, D, Cancian, M., and Cook, S. Family Court Review, V. 55, No. 4, October 2017
I have previously discussed the difference between answers and solutions in legal matters. Answers give you an immediate instruction of what you will do now. Solutions give you not only an immediate answer, but a plan and process for handling the “future issues” that invariably come up for families after their separation agreement is signed.
In a collaborative divorce, communication patterns are identified, modified to be more productive, and new communication and conflict resolution skills are learned. These underlying issues are rarely addressed in a court proceeding or traditional negotiation. So, while courts can give families an immediate answer, they are far less able to provide the tools and solutions that will help avoid future legal fees.
The aim is that, when future issues arise, the parties feel competent and confident in finding their own solution instead of calling an attorney to re-ignite the adversarial process. If that doesn’t work, they can enlist their collaborative attorneys, financial neutral, or child specialist to help them over a rough spot without falling into the endless pattern of litigation or incurring high legal fees. Those fees saved are the same as extra money earned.
As the saying goes, the only constant is change. Changes will happen after your separation agreement is signed and your divorce is finalized. In order to get the most value from your time and money spent, choose a process that will help both of you handle future issues more productively down the road so that you won’t need to involve courts or attorneys for the “future issues”.
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