So, You Are Getting Divorced:
Considerations on the Cost of Legal and Professional Services
In this two part series, I will address the Challenges in
accurately estimating legal and professional fees in
Part I, and will offer thoughts about things that can be done
to minimize fees and maximize services in Part II.
Perhaps the most frequently asked question when interviewing an attorney or other professional about divorce is, “How much is this going to cost?” In order to accurately understand the likely costs for legal and professional fees, you must understand the scope of what must be accomplished, and the steps required to get there.
The cost of professional services is expensive. Cost questions should be asked and discussed. It is important information to have going into a process that is filled with uncertainty.
A legal dissolution of marriage addresses specific issues:
1. Identification, valuation and disposition of assets and debts;
2. When minor children are involved, creating a parenting plan that addresses the reasonable support needs
for children; the sharing of parenting time and duties; considerations for special needs children;
3. Reasonable support needs from one party to their spouse;
4. All other circumstances that affect the health and welfare of the parties or their children.
Clients and professionals experience these circumstance for different points of view. It is wise for all parties involved to have regular assessments of expenses incurred and expenses still needed to be incurred. Everything lives in effective communication. Estimating fees for emotionally charged circumstances is not like estimating the cost to have your damaged fender replaced.
The difficulty arises because of the complexity of circumstances, and the unknown personal qualities each party brings into the process. Where costs and expenses are critical to the process, they should be addressed regularly. Parties may need to move through the process at a slower speed to have greater certainty how costs will be best addressed.
If there has been infidelity within the marriage, trust might be shattered. If either party has a chemical addiction, their ability to operate with integrity may be compromised. Sometimes neither party is aware of the presence or significance of psycho-social dynamics, leaving it to the professionals to recognize and address.
Here are some specific things that impact and influence the cost of a divorce:
1. Medical health or mental health issues may compromise a party’s ability to participate effectively in the process. The existence of such issues may have a critical impact on the financial resources of the marriage. Financial circumstances like bankruptcy or un-filed taxes may complicate the picture.
2. Special needs for children of the marriage place huge demands on the resources of the parties, and even more so on the stress of the parents in trying to cope with them. Ultimately parties have a critical capacity for addressing the myriad collateral difficulties of their situation, and these can easily be over stretched in an adversarial action.
3. Minnesota law provides guidelines in MSA §518 et. seq. that MUST be followed in deciding a case brought before the court. Parties have considerable latitude in creating alternative remedies, provided parties have had competent legal advice in creating those alternatives.
4. When parties bring high conflict from their marriage, it is more likely they will NOT be able to negotiate principled solutions, thereby ceding those decisions to attorneys and judges.
5. The cooperation, or non-cooperation, of one or both parties to participation in good faith.
In order to provide a comprehensive estimate of the cost for legal and professional services, the ability of parties to engage the process of agreement can have a huge impact on the outcome.
If parties are unable to have some measure of healing, it becomes significantly less likely agreements reached will have durability. Post decree battles add immeasurably to the total cost.
Children caught in the middle between warring parents can be scarred for life. People who go through a conflicted battle to obtain the divorce can also be scarred for life.
This list of factors is not intended to be exhaustive of all possibilities. It is intended to provide couples with awareness of complexity of divorce. The more factors present in any situation, the greater the uncertainty of predicting costs accurately.
For all of these reasons, it is often a mistake to try to estimate the total cost too early, at the risk of failure to recognize danger signs.
In my next post, I will talk about reasonable steps that can be taken by parties to manage the expenses and obtain the maximum benefits.Tagged with: divorce • money and divorce • Money and Finances