I have handled at least 2,000 divorce related matters in my career, and one of the first things that my clients want to know is how much their divorce is going to cost them. I always answer their questions in a similar fashion because asking about the total cost of a divorce is like asking how much it will cost to raise children, or how much it will cost to buy and maintain a house. There is no set answer to these questions because many different things can affect the total cost.
The total cost of a divorce is most significantly influenced by the actions (or inaction) of the parties; and, in the vast majority of cases, the total cost of a divorce has very little has to do with the lawyers involved. One hard and fast rule is this: the more a couple fights, the more the divorce costs.
I can get a divorce completed faster and at a lower cost for a couple who has millions of dollars in assets and choose to work cooperatively together to end their marriage than I can for a couple who has no assets but choose to fight about everything. When a client tells his or her attorney things like, “I would rather pay you than him/her,” or “it’s the principal of the thing,” the lawyer has a pretty good idea that the impending divorce litigation will be costly because the client is more interested in “winning” than he or she is in dissolving the marriage as economically and expeditiously as possible. This is extremely unfortunate because there are truly no “winners” in a divorce proceeding. After custody is allocated and/or and the marital property is divided, each party is left with less individually than they enjoyed as a couple: less time with the children, less money, less property, etc.
Here are some examples (taken from actual cases) that can significantly increase the cost of a divorce:
- Engaging in acts of domestic violence
- Removing the children from the home state or concealing their whereabouts
- Making the divorce a personal vendetta
- Emptying bank accounts
- Hiding and/or selling assets
- Locking all of the spouse’s clothing in the car and then disposing of the keys
- Using the children as pawns
- Showing up at court for a hearing with a new boyfriend/girlfriend
- Paying child support from a joint account you share with your spouse (or your current boyfriend/girlfriend)
- Cutting the house in half with a chain saw
If divorcing couples stop communicating and can no longer talk to each other, then all of the communication typically goes through their attorneys. This, of course, helps drive up the couple’s legal fees and can cause additional, unnecessary delays in the divorce proceedings. Say, for example, one party wants to retrieve some items out of the house after he or she has moved out. If the parties are still able to communicate, they can discuss the matter and work together to come up with a fair and equitable division of the household property. If, however, the parties are not able to communicate with each other, then each party ends up having to have telephone calls and/or correspondence with his and her attorneys to try to reach an agreement as to how the property will be divided. By the time each attorney bills all of his or her time for their involvement in this matter, the attorney fees and costs incurred often exceed the value of the property in question.
Regrettably, a strongly contested divorce is sometimes necessary and is the only way to effectively deal with an abusive or dishonest spouse, or to try to get a child custody or shared parenting order in your favor. My office has represented many of our clients in these types of cases, and we will always be as aggressive as necessary to protect our clients’ rights and interests. No matter what the situation, we continually strive to resolve all of our cases in the best manner possible.
Prospective divorce clients should keep in mind that Ohio courts typically approach each divorce case the same way an accountant would propose a business be divided amongst its partners. Simply stated, it is a lot of number crunching. There are statutes, guidelines and calculations utilized by Ohio courts for the determination of spousal support and child support. With respect to property, the Courts routinely attempt to make a fairly equal division of the marital assets and liabilities. Since that is the case, there is great potential for a divorcing couple to save themselves thousands of dollars if they can simply sit down together, with or without their legal counsel, to try to reach an agreement as to support and the equitable division of the marital assets and liabilities. The more the parties can work out amongst themselves to resolve these issues, the less costly their divorce will be.
Child custody cases, of course, are different and can be quite contentious because there is nothing more important to most parents than their children. Nonetheless, the guiding principals of civility and cooperation should still apply in these cases too. When divorcing parents try to use their children as a “bargaining chip” in their divorce proceedings, the legal fees and costs will mount quickly. More importantly, these tactics can be detrimental to the health and emotional well-being of the children. The parents who are able to work together and make joint decisions with their children’s best interest at heart will have happier, healthier children; and, in all likelihood, a much smaller bill from their attorney.
In the end, it is possible that a very simple, basic uncontested divorce could be done very economically. A hotly contested divorce case, however, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. How the parties conduct themselves is the biggest variable.