This is Thomas Ferreira, your divorce and child custody lawyer and mediator serving your community, primarily in North San Diego County. I want to tell you the one secret that will help you not to pay me huge attorneys fees (I didn’t say that out loud just now, did I?).
How many of you readers have sought free advice from attorneys, only to be asked for a credit card before anyone will talk to you? Or have you been to an attorney who has given you an honest estimate of the entire cost of his/her services? If so, I hope you were sitting down.
Yes, legal fees are expensive. But as the old joke goes, isn’t divorce “worth it?” Perhaps. But not if you spend the $10,000, $20,000 or $100,000 on your lawyer’s fees, money that could have helped you create your fantastic post-divorce life.
THE SECRET: TRUST
About 5 years ago I read a book that deeply influence me, a book written by the son of the late Steven Covey called The Speed of Trust. Mr. Covey describes what he calls a “trust tax,” expenditures that become necessary because a party feels the need to be protected. His example is a business deal transacted on a handshake. If each party believes strongly that the other will deliver on his/her promises, there is no need for lawyers, appraisers, arbitrators and other dispute resolution experts. Party A pays the fees pursuant to the schedule, and party B delivers the widgets by the due date. No litigation necessary.
I had several cases over the past year of people who found themselves up to their eyeballs in litigation. One couple were both physicians who had spent $10,000 each, and had not yet made it to their first Request for Order hearing. They decided to substitute out their attorneys before any more damage was done, and stop sweating the small stuff. After one session of mediation and a flurry of paperwork, we had their case done in about 2 weeks, for about 10 percent of what they would have spent answering discovery, filing motions and trying their case.
But here’s what had to happen: Both parties had to decide to opt out of the usual attorney-driven mess. One party called the other (and not the other’s attorney) and said: “hey, this is costing me a fortune. Do you want to keep doing this?” The other party said, “this is costing me a fortune, too. Let’s stop doing this.”
Most parties don’t know that they can call their soon-to-be-ex directly, without going through the attorneys. The trick is to present it to the other person as a win-win, and have an alternate plan to to the court fight, such as mediation.
In no order of severity, common trust killers in divorce are:
- Telling the other party they are getting a divorce by means of serving divorce papers through a process server;
- Filing motions over disputes that should be easy to talk through;
- Sending nasty messages and communications;
- Not following through on commitments or disobeying court orders;
- Hiring aggressive attorneys who write nasty, threatening letters;
- Attorneys propounding demands for production of documents with 50 separate demands, and another 30 special interrogatories.
These steps are often unnecessary, and the cost they produce is not only measured in attorneys fees, but in heartache and inability to co-parent.
WHAT TO DO:
First, if you are sure the marriage is over, have a conversation about your intentions. We recommend that you be firm, as there is no upside to trying to let the other party down easy.
Second, find a mediator, preferably one who has a collaborative approach and doesn’t think too legalistically. Often times solutions can be found that don’t fit neatly into the Family Code, yet provide benefits for everyone.
Third, be willing to make commitments and agreements. Write them down so you’re clear, and get court orders by stipulation if necessary.
Fourth, and this is the most important: Follow through on your agreements. When a person is predictable and does what they say they’re going to do, it builds trust in the other, trust that can head off expensive litigation.
Hoping that you can find a way to build a new kind of trust—not the trust of married people but a trust that says, “I know the marriage is over, but I’m going to be predictable ad honor my agreements,” I remain …
Very truly yours,