Divorce: The Cost of War
In the United States, the average cost of divorce for each party is $19,600 if the case goes to trial and $14,500 of the case is settled before. According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in the US in 2016 was about $55,800 (http://www.deptofnumbers.com/income/us/). Based on these figures, a couple will spend more than half of their annual income just on their divorce. We get it. Sometimes the cost of staying in a marriage is far greater. But there are ways to navigate the divorce that leave you with both more money and sanity in the long run.
Protecting yourself, your children and your assets, and declaring War on your spouse are entirely different creatures. We understand that there are times when ending a marriage is the only way to ensure the safety of children and a quality future for yourself and your family. A spouse that is hellbent on destroying your peace of mind should clearly not be permitted to do so. In such a case, it is important that your attorney employ the law to the fullest extent possible to ensure that you are protected from undue suffering.
On the other side, a need to be right at all cost, unwillingness to compromise and seeking vengeance and self-satisfaction are extremely expensive choices that frequently make that $19,600 divorce turn into $40,000 plus.
The Truth about Divorce Proceedings
It is quite possible that there are attorneys in practice who enjoy fighting for the sake of fighting. There may be attorneys who will do almost anything you ask them to provide you paid up front. Both probably make a lot of money and are probably very good at what they do. But the truth is, that the actual best interest of the client almost never enters the picture for these two types of attorneys.
The next truth is that legal rulings are not made by attorneys. Legal rulings are the sole prerogative of Judges. An attorney may make recommendations and plead a cause to a judge, but beyond persuasion based on presentation of facts and legal precedent, an attorney’s powers are limited. Neither a client’s will to fight nor an attorney’s will to argue, regardless of how much money they are paid to do so, can guarantee a favorable ruling from a judge.
What can happen, and often does, are motions brought before a judge that were primarily based in emotion and less so on the realities of law, and the judge rules against the party bringing the motion. Both parties are then out the additional expense of paying for their attorneys on a motion that could have been skipped entirely, if effective and responsible counsel hand been provided and heeded to begin with.
Why hire a divorce attorney at all then?
For some people, there is no reason at all to hire an attorney, even for a divorce. The necessary documents are publicly available. Even in these cases, people often seek legal counsel to ensure that documents are completed correctly and filed properly with the court. There are nuances and local rules that may change from county to county and state to state. An attorney practicing in a specific state and local jurisdiction will be aware of these details and help clients avoid making costly mistakes.
In cases where matters are volatile, asset distribution or child custody are highly contested, having an attorney is suggested the way a parachute is suggested when jumping from an airplane in flight. The letter of the law can be a powerful force for constructive conflict resolution. It is also immensely complex. Misunderstood, ignored or poorly applied, law meant to create stability can have devastating and destructive consequences. Errors in legal forums are costly not only in time and money, but in emotional toll and real-world effect.
An attorney that is in practice to serve the best interest of the client will both understand the emotional nature of divorce and the realities of the court system. Rarely will such an attorney advocate setting off into courtroom dramas at every slight offense from either side. It is the attorney’s job to help clients understand the difference between a slight offense, losing battle, and causes worth carefully and strategically arguing in court. The best attorney will protect you from yourself as much as threats coming from the other party.
Calling a Truce: Settling a Divorce
Court Room dramas on television have skewed real law into some Twilight Zone nightmare. Divorce matters in Washington State are no fault, and the option of settling the matter reasonably and responsibly between both parties without a trial is in fact the ultimate goal for anyone who is not looking for bragging rights about how much they paid their attorney.
The divorce process in Washington State is designed specifically to provide both parties with every possible opportunity to settle the matter before it goes to trial. Settlement conferences are scheduled to provide each party with the opportunity to listen to the requests made by the other party and get feedback from a judge or commissioner about how the court would likely view the requests if heard at trial.
Your attorney, whom you are paying well to advise you, will spend many more hours acting as a liaison between your spouse or their attorney and yourself, working to reach a productive and mutually beneficial agreement about how to divide assets equitably, make arrangements for co-parenting during the divorce process and beyond, and giving you their expert analysis of the best options available to you based on your specific situation and the realities of law.
There are attorneys who have practiced law for decades without ever bringing a divorce matter to trial. These are excellent negotiators for sure, but they also work for clients who are determined to let reason and sound guidance prevail. The cost of trial can easily exceed several thousand dollars a day, and the more contentious the parties, the longer trials tend to last.
Settling divorce matters before trial should be the goal of every attorney, and every person involved in such proceedings, especially where children are involved. Even in the rare circumstance where the financial cost of divorce is not of concern, the emotional impact on both parties and even more so on any children involved can be brutal. The real battle is protecting those children who get caught in the crossfire of divorce, and dramatic courtroom battles are rarely the best way to ensure their well-being in the long run.
Fighting the Good Fight
Reasonable and responsible are the most effective attitudes when handling divorce matters, both for the attorney and the client. From that starting point it is much easier to recognize the issues that can be negotiated, and those issues where every resource and effort should be employed to protect you, your family and your assets.