When family law clients are facing a divorce, they frequently feel overwhelmed and as though things are happening outside of their control. Especially concerning can be the fear of large attorney fees. How can a new client help to take charge of representation and manage expenses? Here are our top six tips to help!
- Do Your Homework. When an attorney asks the client for financial documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, retirement statements and the like, it is because the attorney genuinely needs them. Fighting with the attorney about what documents will be provided or failing to provide them only prolongs the case and increases fees. But if the client has difficulty obtaining the requested paperwork, or other life circumstances make it impossible to provide the documents in the time requested, the client should notify his or her attorney, to avoid missing crucial court deadlines, and/or additional attorney fees while the office keeps bugging them to respond.
- Keep Your Attorney in the Loop. As mentioned in Tip #1, life can throw a curveball, such as an ailing parent, a termination from a job, or a sick child. Tell the attorney! Your attorney can keep you from getting penalized by the court for failure to respond. If a client and his or her spouse, after both threatening to go to court, end up sitting down at the kitchen table and ironing out their differences, tell the attorneys! Both attorneys will continue to prepare for hearing – and keep incurring fees — until they are told that a settlement has been reached between the parties.
- Your Attorney Has Your Back. Your attorney is duty-bound to share with you documents received from the court or offers to settle from the opposing counsel. Most of the time, documents and information received in your case will be promptly shared with you. While the client can continue to call or email their attorney’s office to keep checking whether or not the order from a hearing has been received, generally if it has not been sent to the client, it has not been received by the attorney yet. Continually calling and checking only increases your fees. If the client has a situation where mail or email are not always received regularly, perhaps setting up one weekly “check-in” to ensure that all communications have been received and accounted for will avoid additional costs and create peace of mind.
- An Attorney’s Time is MONEY. A client should keep his or her attorney informed of changes in life situations or possible settlement; however, the best use of attorney fees may be to schedule a half-hour telephone or Zoom appointment with the attorney to bring the attorney up to speed. Sending multiple emails which may then generate multiple responses is likely to be more expensive than one phone call. Clients may feel that email is less expensive, but it can spiral into a much larger expense very quickly.
- Don’t Be Ashamed to Call in the Experts. The attorney is the “expert” as it pertains to your legal case. With few exceptions, the same attorney is NOT an expert in the feelings, emotions, and underlying mental health concerns that you face. Divorce is difficult enough under normal circumstances; add it to a pandemic, and it can be terrifying and deeply unsettling. Clients should seek out the appropriate mental health professionals to help him or her through this very difficult time. While it may seem easier to ask the attorney how to handle these kinds of feelings, unfortunately divorce law in Indiana does not provide an opportunity to take out frustrations, sadness or anger on the other spouse. And the attorney can only provide general suggestions. While helpful at the time, they do not actually help move the case forward, and can result in unnecessary attorney fees. Clients need to take the advice from a true mental health professional with the right education and training, (and who may have a lower hourly rate than the attorney), to help manage their emotions during this trying time.
- Talk with Friends. Clients should surround themselves with friends during this time. However, these should not be the kinds of friends who tell them what they want to hear; rather, friends who will listen, let them cry on a shoulder, and then tell them what they NEED to hear. Sometimes that “tough love” can help a client move forward, in spite of feeling pretty lousy about divorce. But clients should be careful to speak with other friends who have been divorced. Did the friend get divorced three years ago but is still fighting and going to court every few months? Or did the friend get divorced and now has an even better relationship with his or her spouse? Divorce is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and every case is different. What works for one person and one case may not work for another. Clients should seek out the advice of friends who had the kind of divorce and post-divorce relationship with their spouse that they would like to have. And should take the advice of others with many grains of salt.