by Laura Gitlin-Petlak, Esq
1. Become knowledgeable about the California divorce process.
Read information on this Web Site so that you can ask more intelligent questions from your lawyer.
2. Know when to hold them and when to fold them.
The less bitterly fought your divorce is, the less it will cost. On the other hand, if you are a push- over, your long term economic situation may be so bad, that you will have wished that you spent more early on in your divorce process. To save money on your divorce, you have to know which is likely to reach a more economical resolution: litigation or some form of alternate dispute resolution (negotiation, mediation, arbitration, etc.).
3. Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish.
Understand that trying to do things too cheaply initially will end up costing you much more in the long run.
- Avoid unsupervised paralegals or document preparers. There are too many people who find out too late that they could have used a lawyer or a lawyer supervised paralegal to draft their papers and paid about the same amount instead of hiring someone who has no law school training, no experience practicing family law, no experience representing clients in family law matters. There are hidden price tags with unsupervised paralegals or document preparers: sometimes the mistakes that they make can cost an enormous amount of money to correct if it is simply not too late to correct the problem. Don’t panic about the cost of hiring a lawyer: determine accurately whether you can afford an attorney. There is a considerable range that certified family law specialists, their associates, and their paralegals charge. If you cannot afford any of the specialists, then you may qualify for help from a charitable organization that assists people with family law matters.
- Avoid lawyers who are not true specialists. To the extent that you need a lawyer, use a lawyer who:
- Is a board Certified Family Law Specialist, certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, and one that has an office in the county where your action will take place,
- Limits or concentrates his or her practice to the practice of family law, or
- Is an associate attorney for a firm with a board Certified Family Law Specialist who will supervise that associate.
If a lawyer tells you that there is no one in your small population who meets either of the criterion, keep looking or call for a consultation to find an appropriate lawyer. Do not be taken in by the argument that in your county there is no one who meets one or both of these criteria. Every county in California has several lawyers who meet at least one of these three criterion.
4. Write to your lawyer rather than telephoning when appropriate.
Most lawyers charge by the hour, and there is considerable hidden time involved in telephone calls that lawyers bill for. Your lawyer will have to bill for the time that it will take to note, as part of your client action plan and his or her calendar system. If you don’t write well, but you have a friend, neighbor or family member who can help you, you might want to consider that. Email, fax, U.S. mail are all good ways to communicate in writing.
5. Have the same support person go with you to your meetings with your attorney.
Having one person who acts as your support person can be enormously helpful. Your support person can be a friend, a neighbor, or a family member. Ask your lawyer how you can use this person and still protect your attorney-client privilege. If you want to discuss something privately with your attorney, ask that the person step out for a few minutes.
6. Get advice about what the possible outcomes would be if you were to let the judge decide.
If you are willing to pay a family law specialist for two to four hours of his or her time, if you bring with you a list of your assets and debts along with your three most recent tax returns, at the conclusion of your interview, the lawyer should be able to tell you preliminarily about the range of possible outcomes in terms of custody, child support, spousal support, community assets, debts, and other matters excepting complex financial matters.
7. Develop a plan to get whatever information your lawyer needs to be more precise.
You may need to hire experts to determine the value of a retirement plan, the value of a house, the value of a business, and the value of the furniture.
8. Don’t overvalue your furniture, furnishings and appliances.
Too many people mistakenly believe that their used furniture, furnishings, and appliances are worth what they paid for them. Just as a car depreciates significantly when driven off of the dealer’s lot, most furniture, furnishings and appliances decrease in value significantly. Look to www.recycler.Com for the value of your used items unless you have antiques. If you are tempted to believe that the total value of your 2 to 3 bedroom home has much more than $3,000 total value of furniture and furnishings, perhaps you ought to seriously consider obtaining a professional appraisal.
9. Ask for a second legal opinion from another certified family law specialist.
Ask for a second legal opinion from another lawyer. A second opinion is different from a consultation to hire a new lawyer. You may ask the second lawyer to evaluate whether you should switch attorneys. It may be that the lawyer who is giving you her or his second opinion can better explain why your lawyer is doing what he or she is doing and that this will increase your confidence in your lawyer.
10. Avoid changing lawyers.
If you change your lawyer once during the representation, the judge is not likely to think any less of you, but if you change lawyers more than once, this is going to reflect negatively on you. Furthermore, quality family law lawyers are not likely to want to take on someone’s case where there have been two or more predecessors.
© 2002 Laura Gitlin-Petlak