Controlling Your Massachusetts Divorce Fees

Don’t let out of control legal fees break the bank.

Take Control of Your Divorce Legal Fees

by Stephen McDonough, Esq.

Your Metro-west Massachusetts Family Law Firm

As if getting divorced or dealing with another family law matter in Massachusetts is not enough, you also have to contend with paying your legal or mediation fees.   You probably know someone who had high legal fees for their divorce.  Maybe they even shared with you how high fees added financial stress, made a difficult time even worse, and made it tougher to start fresh when it was all over.

Even couples with moderate incomes and assets can spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees.  Highly contested matters or cases that spiral out of control could cost over six figures.   To me, that seems like an unwise use of resources.

Besides staying in an unhealthy relationship, is there anything you can do to avoid out of control legal fees?

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help manage your legal expenses.

I think the main drivers of  fees are based upon the following four factors:

1)  What process a couple selects to get divorced;

2)   The efficiency and skill of the law firm or mediator selected;

3)  The overall “reasonableness” of you, your spouse and of opposing counsel  (if applicable); and

4) The type of fee agreement between the client and the law firm (or mediator).

Let’s look at each one of these factors in more detail.

1.   Careful consideration of your process options

The process you and your spouse select to navigate the divorce has a big impact on the total expense.  Although there are exceptions, divorce mediation tends to be the best value in our experience.

Unfortunately, you may not always be able to control this factor.   Perhaps you have researched mediation, and are confident that it would be a good choice for your family.   Unfortunately, your spouse may not be willing to explore this option and could select a “lawyer-driven” process, such as litigation.   Hello higher legal fees.

Can you control this?   Not really.  You can try to have an open discussion about this topic, but still, your spouse can veto your opinion since mediation or collaborative divorce is voluntary in Massachusetts.

2.   Efficiency of the law firm or mediator

A law firm that has good systems in place, makes use of modern technology, and effectively manages resources (yours and theirs) should have en edge over an inefficient attorney or mediator.

But wait – if you are like most people and pay for your legal services based upon an hourly rate because that is the way things have been done in the past, then this system could encourage and actually reward an inefficient lawyer.  You want to get your case finished in a manner that is good for you with good results, but more time on your case translates into higher fees for your lawyer or mediator.  A fixed fee rewards the efficient lawyer or mediator, and provides you with better value.

Can you control this variable?  Sometimes.

3.   The Reasonableness of the People Involved

There is often a correlation between the reasonableness of the parties involved and the amount spent on legal fees.  Reasonable folks are good candidates for alternative forms of dispute resolution, including divorce mediation or collaborative divorce.   Being reasonable does not mean that you have to agree on everything to consider hiring a Massachusetts divorce lawyer or collaborative attorney.

In other cases, if one person has an unreasonable position, or hires a lawyer that is overly-aggressive and submits a mountain of discovery requests, this will certainly increase your legal fees, especially under the hourly billing model.  Why?  Your own lawyer must respond. For example, if your spouse’s lawyer schedules a deposition, even though you may feel as though it is clearly unnecessary, then your own lawyer will need to respond and attend the deposition, increasing your total legal expenses.

If you have a reasonable party on the other side, your divorce will likely go smoother and may require less work.  Similarly, if you have reasonable positions and goals as part of your case, you have just taken care of the other half of this variable.

4.  The Type of Fee Agreement You Have with your Lawyer or Mediator

Fixed fees, also called “value-based billing” are not common in Massachusetts divorce cases – yet; however, they are common in a number of other practice areas.  Around the country, progressive law firms are realizing the benefits of fixed fees for clients and practitioners alike.

Interestingly, some of the most sophisticated and frequent purchasers of legal services – large corporations and insurance companies for example, frequently require outside counsel to provide fixed fees.

Fixed fees may not be the best scenario for all types of legal work, but if you are concerned about being billed for every email, telephone call, or letter, you should consider a fixed fee.

I once had a client tell me she wanted to call with a question but did not because she did not want to be charged for our time.   This is not an optimal situation for anyone.

At The Divorce Collaborative, we believe clients should have a say in how they pay their legal fees.

If you have questions about legal fees, or your Massachusetts divorce, divorce mediation, Massachusetts child support, alimony, collaborative divorce, or other family law issues, please call our Franklin divorce lawyers or divorce mediators at (508) 346-3805 to schedule your consultation.