Q. How much will a divorce cost in New Jersey?
A. It is impossible to give an estimate for a litigated divorce. People have different issues: Domestic violence, custody, valuations of business, income and tax problems. Some just can’t settle. Some attorneys and parties know how to work on settlement, others just know how to fight wasting a lot of time and money. Settling properly is a skill set. Not everyone is good at it. If I were to guess most divorces with standard middle class assets or issues can be resolved between $10,000 and $15,000. I have completed divorces, however, for as low as $3,000.00 including all processing. The parties, however, had very simple matters and no arguments. The bulk of the expense was processing through the Court. If people fight continuously and obstruct resolution of issues, it can be $50,000 and upwards of six figures. One must always consider return on investment. If it costs $75,000.00 to save a million it might be worth it, but not to save $70,000.00.
Q. Can mediation help to save fees?
A. In mediation, people can save a lot of money if they are honest and cooperative. In mediation you can openly and quickly address issues, data and concerns with the mediator and avoid the slow process of the Court resolving your issues. You can analyze the facts and go back and forth negotiating directly and in a more rapid fashion rather than presenting positions to an overburdened Judge. Problems such as failure to declare all income on income tax returns can be openly addressed in mediation. In Court the Judge must report the parties to tax authorities. If you bring your lawyer to the mediation he/she can guide you through the process with confidence and make resolution even easier. The lawyer knows your rights and can help you make intelligent decisions. Many people are afraid to make decisions in mediation for fear of agreeing to too much or too little, without the proper knowledge. Remember, a mediator’s job is not to make decisions for you like a Judge, the mediator simply pushes parties to settlement. Further, mediation is completely voluntary-one does not have to settle in mediation. Usually it’s a good idea though, both emotionally and financially.
Q. How can preparing your financial statement impact fees?
A. A party to a divorce can save money by gathering paperwork and carefully organizing themselves. For example, in a divorce parties exchange financial statements. In New Jersey, this is called a Case Information Statement, in New York, they are called Net Worth Statements. One declares assets liabilities and sets forth the marital budget and needs upon separation. I ask all clients to spend time and effort to put this form together very carefully as it is critical in the case. If it is done sloppily so it does not make sense, it will cause further litigation and fees. A good lawyer will have to go over it several times to correct it with the client. The final Case Information Statement product must make sense. I have seen and had clients start by putting arbitrarily large numbers or small numbers in for their budget, thinking this was a smart way to get either more money from the payor or pay less as the payee. If the math does not work, it is not smart and shows lack of credibility. If a Case Information Statement is truthful and accurate, it helps forward movement in the case. Also if the client him or herself came up with correct numbers and backup documents, this, too, limits the amount of legal work needed from the attorney. Bottom line, tell the truth, back it up with facts you will save a lot of money.
Q. How can your lawyer help you to save fees?
A. A good lawyer will give the client proper tips and directions on how to save money. The more organized legwork the client does, the lower the fees. If the client is too busy, with significant earnings, it may be worth it to have the lawyer do more work. Further the lawyer will know techniques to help settle cases properly. Certainly one should avoid wasting counsel fees; on the other hand if one goes to a very cheap or inexperienced lawyer or one tries to do all negotiation without lawyers to save a few bucks, often the party misses something important or waives thousands of dollars in the deal while saving a small amount in counsel fees. I have unfortunately had to correct many of these mistakes which cost significant funds later. Ask your lawyer what methods he or she uses to help streamline a case. There are no guarantees, but most cases do settle before trial.
Q. How can I deal with the financial and other issues best in a divorce?
A. A divorce is predominantly a financial contract which can be accomplished through intelligent negotiation. The financial issues are division of property and debt and if the parties have significantly different income, how much support must be paid and for how long. The key to saving money is to be as unemotional and practical as possible, to be prepared with information about your property and income and your future. Consider the costs or budget to live now and going forward. One household is turning into 2. If parties are truthful and treat one another with respect and work with figures reasonably, within the scope of the law, they will save money and have a reasonable resolution. Parties should consult with counsel as the law is frequently different than people believe. Rational fact based resolution without extreme fear and anger is most effective and typically will also get you the right result.
When dealing with custody issues also, try and keep anger to a minimum. Stand in your child’s shoes. Children love both parents. Consider first: Is the other party a caring parent even if the marriage is broken? No parent is perfect. Disparaging the other person is harmful. If there are serious mental health abuse or substance issues, these must be addressed. Do what is the best interest of your child.
Do not negotiate custody to save a few dollars on child support. Have your lawyer review numbers. There are usually minimal changes in child support numbers from a day or two. Please think about giving your children a happy, peaceful future with a relationship with both parents.