When we describe the “cost of divorce”, there can be so many ways that cost comes into play. It’s not only the financial costs, but also the psychological costs, emotional costs, spiritual costs, family costs, and more. In this post we’re talking exclusively about the financial costs.
When people hire a divorce professional, it’s hard to know what to expect for fees. Can you break it down?
My goal today is to give a better answer than the age old “it depends”.
Lawyers and mediators have various ways they do their billing – that’s one of those things that I always have a transparent conversation with my clients right at the initial consultation stage so they leave that meeting knowing what to expect.
The way that I and many divorce professionals charge for their services are usually one of a couple ways – hourly and flat rate.
Hourly services are usually for all negotiations leading up to agreement between you and your former spouse. There’ll be a certain interval of time charged – for instance, I myself break it down to the 6-minute interval. That means that if I work on something for 12 minutes, I would charge .2 of my hourly rate. Some lawyers charge by the 15-min interval. It’s best to ask this particular question of your lawyer if you know the services will be hourly.
The other main form of billing I use is flat rate – for me this is typically for drafting documentation once agreement has been reached. This would be for things like drafting a separation agreement and a divorce application.
What contributes to escalating costs?
There are 3 main things I describe that can drive up fees quickly for a family.
- Conflict level between separating spouses – the higher the conflict, the more time it will take to resolve each issue.
- Negotiation Process choice – we’ve talked a lot about this in other episodes – choosing divorce court has a lot of procedural costs, and on top of that the documents which get filed often contain things that will escalate the conflict. By contrast, choosing a process which remains out of court, like Collaborative Divorce or Mediation, starts by bridging gaps and working together which can often keep costs down.
- Number of issues – very basically, how many issues do we need to resolve?
All 3 of these things go together – for instance, one issue with loads of conflict in a court process can take years to resolve whereas 10 issues with a de-escalated former couple in an out-of-court process could be done in a few hours of negotiation.
Does it help with cost if a separating couple discuss things themselves first?
This one can be a double-edged sword.
I always recommend that families I serve come to me with some idea of their proposal for resolution for as many things as possible.
In fact, my most useful tool especially when spouses want to do some of the leg-work themselves is to utilize my Workbook in conjunction with their work with me. Families will work through a series of questions, and review the law applicable to their case, in order to better prepare for discussions between them, or in preparation for the negotiation process with me as a mediator or their lawyer. This allows families to come to the negotiation table informed and prepared.
Sometimes that preparation is alone, and sometimes it involves discussing their ideas with their former spouse. My rule of thumb – negotiate and discuss things as long as the discussions remain productive, and the emotions stay reserved.
How can people keep their costs in-check during their separation or divorce?
Besides the items that we talked about already such as discussing things with your spouse directly (if it’s productive) and choosing a process that focus on de-escalating the conflict.
I’m going to focus on my top 3 tips.
Tip #3 – Use other professionals wisely
Use a counsellor to seek help with the emotional component, or use a realtor to negotiate listing your house for sale rather than having your lawyers intervening, or work with a financial advisor who has skills in being able to guide you on what you’ll need for retirement or savings, or even what will be sustainable for your household budgeting.
Tip #2 – Get informed
This is my passion – I have created an entire e-learning community with tons of resources to help families learn about the divorce process in a way that helps families become healthy and thriving post-separation. You can check out Up A Notch Learning Inc. and join our e-learning platform FREE to get more information.
Tip #1 – Use your time with your divorce professional wisely.
If you have questions that aren’t time sensitive, consolidate them and send a few questions at a time in an email, or book a short call to ask all your questions at once. If you can, talk to your lawyer’s assistant as much as possible – they can answer many routine non-legal questions, and in my office we don’t charge out our assistants’ time, so that’s a great way to save a few dollars!
Henka Divorce Law & Mediation is a Collaborative Law and Family Mediation firm that helps families thrive as they transition to separation, divorce, or cohabitation. Understanding that every journey is different, we guide families through the right legal or mediation process that fits their unique situation.
Our client service is built on three pillars – focusing on the future, nurturing and supporting children, and working together towards well-being. This includes considering everyone’s needs throughout the process. We work closely with families to provide a meaningful and fair resolution, while keeping costs down by staying out of court.
We serve families in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada through their separation or divorce by providing in-person and virtual Collaborative Law or Mediation services.
With extensive knowledge in matrimonial law, our founder Stephanie Dobson uses a caring, results-focused approach to help parents navigate a family separation or divorce while they connect with and support their children. Learn more about her approach and credentials.