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Divorce is a financial event as much as it is an emotional one.  Divorce often means the same income must now support two sets of household expenses instead of one: two mortgages instead of one; two insurance payments instead of one; etc.  Having two households means the pair must either spend more for the same lifestyle or cut back to make ends meet.

When finances are tight the the cost of a divorce lawyer can be daunting.  Indeed, the right lawyer might be expensive in the short run. However hiring the right one is probably the affordable option when considering the alternatives.

1. Lawyer Up Now or Lawyer Up Later

Waiting to get a lawyer to help you can be pennywise and pound foolish.  You might save in the short run, but you risk paying a lot more in the long run. Separation agreements created without the help of a lawyer are often ambiguous, especially when things do not go to plan.

Ambiguity creates risk and in the long run risk costs money.  If you’re willing to involve your lawyer early and often he or she can reduce ambiguity and risk by dealing with the landmines before they go off.  For example, if you plan to sell the marital home: what happens if it doesn’t sell; what happens if you can’t agree on price; what happens if you get a low bid; what happens if one of you wants to change realtors?

Large assets like homes can cause divorces disputes to drag on long after the decree is issued.  Indeed, it’s possible to remarry before your property and debts are completely unwound.  If you hit one of those landmines, the cost of hiring a lawyer to do damage control can be much more than the cost of involving one early.

2. Don’t Leave Money on the Table

Without a lawyer, you are more likely to miss valuable assets that should be divided.  Modern families often have complex financial interests.  Their liquid assets may be spread between accounts and institutions.  Interests in joint ventures, limited liability companies, and other non-transferrable assets may require expert testimony to establish the asset’s value.  More commonly, the value of the family business that two spouses built may not be reflected in the book value of the company.

Even where the other spouse is likely to keep the asset, like the family business, having a proper valuation presented can affect your bottom line.  For example, if a family business is worth $500,000 if you count good will instead of a $250,000 book value, that extra quarter million could make a difference in what other property you receive when the spouse is awarded the family business.

A court will try to divide the marital estate in an “equitable” (a fair) way.   What’s fair is a matter of opinion – the judge’s opinion.  If the court is persuaded that the other spouse has received an extra $250,000 in assets, it is likely to influence the distribution of other assets from the marital estate.

3. Make the Other Side Pay

Sometimes, your lawyer can make the other side pay.  Occasionally, the court may be willing to order the other side to pay some portion of your legal bills.  Those fee shifting cases are unlikely where both parties to the divorce have relatively equal income or where both have access to significant funds.  However, in those cases where there is a particularly unequal ability of one spouse to pay for their divorce as compared to the other spouse, then the court is more likely to consider a fee shifting order.

4. Hear Some Truth

Some things are worth fighting over and some things are not.  Having a lawyer you can trust can help you pick which fights to fight and which ones you should let go of.  Divorce is an emotional challenge, and as a result it’s easy to let emotional attachment about any particular asset or debt get in the way of practicality.  Sometimes you need a lawyer who will speak hard truths to you so you can spend your energies (and your money) where it needs to be spent.

5. Quicker Resolution With a Lawyer

Having a lawyer can help you resolve the case sooner than later.  If there is a settlement to be reached in your divorce, it’s always better to have a lawyer you can rely on.  Your lawyer can typically have more constructive conversations with the other side than you would on your own – sometimes even before a divorce is ever filed.

Most importantly, having a lawyer can keep reduce the risk of revisiting the same issue again later.  For example, if you leave out items that should have been assigned in the divorce, then you could wind up having your case re-opened years later so you and the former spouse can fight over distribution of the asset.  Such was the case of Smith v. Cahill, a 1993 divorce that wound up getting re-opened years later and that didn’t really end until 2015.

How to Find Help:

  • Ask around your community to see who your peers have relied on to navigate them through their divorce; and
  • If you’re in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama area, contact the lawyers at Browne House Law to talk about your divorce.