Divorce attorneys like myself help clients with divorces and post-divorce actions like enforcement, contempt and modification primarily in Texas. In such a large metropolitan area my clients range in family size, financial assets, post-divorce needs, property ownership and other issues related to their divorce. These divorces can range for very reasonable for clients, particularly with uncontested divorces, all the way to quite expensive for complex and hotly contested divorces.
The cost factor for a client is always a relevant issue. Some divorces are expensive because there is a lot of work with custody, child support, or
property division issues. Other divorces become expensive because one or both spouses choose to air out their hostility in court. Unless you have a huge pile of money you are desperate to spend on a divorce, it often makes the most sense to understand the issues in your divorce and where it makes the most sense to allocate the financial resources you have to deliver the best results.
Today’s post will discuss the ten issues that often make divorces more expensive. Some of these issues are necessary issues to deal with in a particular divorce while others are just bad decisions or misunderstandings by one or both parties that turns the divorce into a needless money pit.
1. Complex or large financial assets.
A divorce that involves complex, unusual, or large amounts of financial assets typically requires financial experts to value the financial assets and a fair amount of negotiation to reach a settlement over how to divide the assets. Some financial assets are difficult to divide in a divorce due to legal issues with who can hold title to the assets or merely finding ways to divide typically indivisible assets.
Not all financial assets are easily sold or make sense to sell at the time of divorce, which can add another wrinkle in the property division. With the sale or transfer of financial assets can come tax implications for one or both parties and therefore including a tax professional is often necessary.
These issues can hold true not only for passive financial investments but also for active business interests in which one or both spouses have management and/or ownership interests in a business. The business may not only be a source of assets for the marital estate but also may be a source of income for one or both spouses. Valuing the assets plus revenue stream may require expert valuation.
If there are other owners in the business then that can create additional problems in negotiating how to deal with the parties’ ownership in the business as the other owners likely do not want to have the business become subject to the post-divorce involvement of both spouses.
Spending reasonable sums on financial experts often makes sense if there are significant financial assets tied up in the marital estate. Spending some money on this issue may yield significant advantage in the property division that adds value for the client.
However, most divorces do not include these types of financial assets and any business involvement may be simple enough not to require financial experts. Most marriages involve divisions of the home, vehicles, personal property, some credit cards and some retirement accounts.
Those assets typically would not require a deep investment into financial experts although sorting out the retirement accounts may benefit from having an attorney with experience dealing with retirement accounts on your side.
2. Intense hostility or disagreement over child custody issues.
An intense fight over custody issues can be a meaningful fight in a divorce; but regardless of the value of the fight it will likely be expensive.
An intense fight over custody issues can occur when both parents are fighting to have meaningful access to the children or access to important parenting rights like medical and educational decisions. In these cases both parents may have good faith and reasonable positions why they are willing to fight for greater management and possession of the children.
Sometimes one parent should not have significant access to or parental rights over the children for objective reasons like violence, mental health issues, substance abuse or life schedule that would leave the children unsupervised in ways that can put the children at risk.
These are meaningful reasons for conflict over child issues.
In other cases the hostility over issues related to the children can be less meaningful. It is common to see parents want to use the divorce proceedings as an opportunity to fight over who is the better parent, who was a worse parent in the past, or worst of all, using the children as a proxy to argue over who was the better spouse.
These fights may be emotionally satisfying for the person instigating the fight but rarely results in a good outcome for the children or any other meaningful conclusion.
Either way an intense battle over the children is likely to be expensive. When the children become a focus of conflict in the divorce there are a number of expenses that will likely accrue in your divorce. One or both parents may ask the court to appoint an attorney ad litem, a guardian ad litem, or an amicus attorney.
These third parties provide various roles on behalf of the court or the children to advocate for the interests of the children rather than the parents. They can be helpful but the parties will be the ones financing the costs of that third party. There may also be expenses involved in home studies, therapists, counselors and other professional services related to the children and their role in the conflict.
In addition to these expenses, the parties will undoubtedly accrue more attorneys fees on both sides while they hash out attempts at negotiations, exchange documents related to the children and time involved in obtaining testimony from various witnesses related to the children. These costs can be worthwhile when the battle over the children is a meaningful issue in the divorce.
Otherwise it is a lot of money down the drain for little value.
3. An overly aggressive divorce lawyer.
Some divorce attorneys advertise themselves as “aggressive”, “bulldogs”, “pitbulls” that suggests they will leave no opportunity to be hostile towards the other party and his or her divorce attorney. Sometimes people, including some divorce lawyers, believe the best path in a divorce is hostility and wear down the spouse.
Some even believe hiring an “aggressive pitbull” attorney means they will be able to punish the spouse in court.
Admittedly, it is a tactic that sometimes works; but frequently it merely results in more discord between the parties. Both sides dig in. The only way to break the logjam is spending more money fighting issues out in litigation. So a client typically ends up paying a premium for the benefit of having his or her attorney help the client emotionally harm the other side.
The usual result of spending all that extra money on hostility is that the divorce takes longer, it costs more, and you usually end up with roughly the same result you would have with a more professional approach.
Worst of all, many people who hire these “aggressive divorce lawyers” end up not even feeling a sense of justice about the hostility they paid for.
You don’t need to pay a lawyer to help you be a jerk. You can do that for free. I cannot say I have ever heard anybody say they hired an aggressive divorce lawyer and had a low-cost divorce.
4. One or both parties insists on being difficult and doing everything the hard way.
No matter how reasonable you and your attorney are about the divorce, there is no way for you to control how your spouse behaves or how his or her attorney will behave. The judge cannot require a party to be reasonable, polite or fair. The judge cannot force a settlement or decline to allow a party to have a trial. Unfortunately that can turn a divorce into an expensive affair.
There are techniques to steer the divorce towards a reasonable and less costly conclusion but there is no guarantee any will work. Sometimes people just want to turn their divorces into a fight and reason plays no part in their decision-making. Aggravating the situation with hostility or an attorney who encourages discord is likely to burn through more of your money.
5. Not understanding the role of the family court.
The role of the family court is greatly misunderstood by many people. The family courts exist to make difficult decisions about child custody and property division in divorces. The family courts do not exist to punish one person or the other for the past. This is not like divorce court shows where the whole “trial” is each person saying the other person is terrible. The judge is not interested in that. It almost never has a role to play in the outcome of your divorce.
The more you force the divorce into a battle over the past the more you waste time and money on issues that do not matter. One way to waste money is to believe you need to go to court to air out marital problems. Anything you have to say to your spouse can be said without spending thousands of dollars in preparation for trial.
If you go into your divorce believing this is your opportunity to air out grievances or exact revenge for all the bad things that happened in your divorce I can assure you that you will likely feel dissatisfied by the results of your divorce and will have spent an unnecessarily excessive amount of money to get there. If you go into your divorce with the goal establishing a new life then you are likely to be more satisfied in the long term.
6. Picking fights over property that are more expensive to fight than the value of the property.
Generally it doesn’t make sense to spend $1000 to make $1000. You come out with what you started with plus the loss of time. Sometimes people fight aggressively over personal property. Often it would be cheaper to buy new everything than a divorce lawyer. Certainly some personal property legitimately carries a value that exceeds its market value. (Such as collections, family heirlooms, family photos and videos.)
Financial assets, business interests and real estate can be more complicated to value in a divorce. They can be affected by liquidity, risk assessment, taxation and appreciation. A party with these types of assets needs to work with his or her divorce attorney (and possibly financial experts) to determine the value of these assets, how they fit into the client’s short term and long term financial needs.
7. A child has special needs to address.
Special needs children are almost always a sensitive issue in a divorce. They may require significantly greater care or a parent with greater job flexibility to go to school or doctor’s appointments. There may also be a need for additional child support. It can take some time and work to craft a workable plan for the child.
Crafting this plan often involves a lot of negotiation. It may require involving the child’s treating physicians and therapists. There can be resistance by the parent who will pay child support. The work involved in crafting that plan and overcoming that resistance can be expensive.
8. One or both parties refuses to cooperate with mandatory information exchanges.
It is common in a Texas divorce for parties to disclose information and documents to the other side. Failing to comply with those requirements can rack up expenses on both sides. In Texas we treat a divorce like any other type of civil litigation. That includes what the civil procedure rules call “discovery”.
Discovery is part of litigation in which the parties request documents and information from the other side. When a party refuses to comply with discovery requests, civil procedure rules allow motions to compel production. Having to file motions to compel delays completing discovery and requires additional attorney’s fees. Judges can order the party refusing to comply to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees.
Sometimes parties disclose some information but not everything they should. It may require hiring investigators or other experts to uncover information that should have been disclosed.
Many Texas family courts require parties to a divorce to automatically disclose certain information without discovery requests. While there are remedies when a party does not produce required disclosures, this will expend time and money.
9. Believing prolonging the divorce will give you a chance to heal the marriage.
Some people oppose the idea of their divorce because they believe if given enough time the marriage can be mended. To buy themselves time they try to drag out the divorce. Dragging out the divorce typically means refusing settlement and force the other side to pursue litigation. That in turn will cost both sides more money. It is extremely rare when this strategy works. In most cases dragging out the divorce only results in more hostility and frustration between the spouses.
10. Believing that having your day in court is the most important part of your divorce.
Many people believe they should have their day in court and let the judge decide who is right or wrong. This often goes hand in hand with misunderstanding the role of the court. It can be satisfying to stand up in court and tell your story; however, the results a party gains through trial are often not far from what could have been negotiated beforehand.
Most litigation, in family law and other areas of law, ends in settlement or mediation. Very few cases ever go to trial. This is with good reason. It is usually more advantageous for the parties to meet in the middle to avoid the cost of trial. The costs of litigation should not be overlooked.
In a complex divorce it is common to spend $5,000-$10,000 per side to take a divorce to trial. That includes the attorney‘s work preparing for and attending trial along with exhibits, paying experts and other related expenses. If you do not have an attorney, you have to take off work for trial and hearings plus time preparing. A pro se party will also need to pay for experts to provide testimony.
The costs of litigation usually outweigh the benefits. Unless the property involved is complex and significant, it rarely makes sense to burn $10-20,000 on trial to divide property. In most divorces the judge will grant a division close to an even split. Spending all that money on trial is usually a bad idea for clients.
Child custody issues sometimes need trial because the parties cannot agree and there is simply no middle ground. However, in most cases the court will unsurprisingly award the standard possession order with mom as the custodial parent. The benefit of having your day in court rarely matches the detriment of spending all of that time and money.