So many people have sticker shock when they realize how much it costs to get a divorce. The most expensive and the longest process to obtain a divorce is a traditional litigated divorce through the court system. Although, in order to obtain a divorce, a legal action must be commenced and processed through the New York State Supreme Court System, that does not mean the case needs to be litigated through the court system or that the individual parties need to go to court. There are alternative methods that are more humane; take less time and are less costly to obtain a divorce. Even though there are alternative methods, no divorce is inexpensive or for free.
Many of the costs involved are a result of the negotiating of all issues that need to be resolved; the Court filing fees and more importantly the sheer amount of documents that are required by the court system before a divorce can be granted. One look at the volume and complexity of documents that are required to be prepared for the “Uncontested Divorce Packet” in New York, alone is enough to make someone feel sick to their stomach. The reality is there is a vast difference in the costs of obtaining a divorce, depending on which modality or method you choose. This difference can add up to not only tens of thousands ($$,$$$) but hundreds of thousands of dollars ($$$,$$$) when the cost to the couple and the marital assets are considered.
Further, the actual time spent in obtaining a divorce varies greatly depending on the modality or method that you choose. No one has control over how long the Court will take to process the necessary paper work to finalize a divorce. However, there is a significant difference between a case that is litigated, and goes through the Court system as opposed to a case that goes through an alternative method such as Mediation or Collaborative processes.
The difference on how your money is spent and how your money works for you can be drastically different depending on the process you choose. Traditional divorce cannot only devastate your finances but can have a devastating impact on your mental and physical well-being. The alternative methods of Mediation and Collaborative are a much healthier process, not only for the individuals mentally and physically but to their financial futures when a couple chooses to dissolve their relationship. There is nothing more stressful and contentious as a litigated matter, which stands in stark contrast to the healthier forms of Mediation and Collaboration. This is not to say that stress and discourse do not exist in the other modalities, but they can be minimized and channeled in much more effective ways so that the parties can navigate this transition and in the end be much better off mentally, physically and financially.
There are two ways that I like to describe how your money can be spent or your money can work better for you. One is an example that I watched my sister use with my nephew when he chose to pump up the thermostat rather than put on a sweater. She took out a five-dollar bill (representing his allowance) and said that every time you pump up the thermostat, it like doing this and she put the five-dollar bill on fire and let her son watch it burn. The effect was dramatic. He quickly understood how quickly money can literally be burned up simply by turning up the thermostat. Likewise, how your money is spent or how it works for you in the dissolution of your marriage is very similar when you contrast the methods of Mediation and Collaborative dissolution, to a litigated divorce. In the litigated divorce both parties are paying substantial monies and an initial retainer to merely retain litigation counsel for the divorce. The substantial retainer, which could be thousands of dollars does not get you to the conclusion of your divorce but is just the money to get you past the initial starting line. In addition, like watching that five-dollar bill go up in smoke, the parties could be sitting in the court house for a good portion of a day watching counsel for both sides sitting there in the hall way of the court house or in the gallery of the court room, waiting for your case to be called. When your case is finally called, does anything really get done? No, most times, unless you are actually on trial, your case is being conferenced, either by the Law Secretary or the Judge, which means your attorneys get to go behind the bench in the court room, behind closed doors in the Judge’s chambers to discuss your case for maybe five to ten minutes and the result is usually scheduling the next conference date to do the same thing all over again. So, of the ten minutes that your attorney was actually working on your case, you are spending thousands of dollars for your attorney to be there waiting for your case to be called, three-quarters of a day, half a day or all day depending on the court’s calendar. In addition, you may be also paying for the ineptitude of an advisory’s counsel. If your spouse has counsel that has other matters on or just doesn’t really get the work done in between court dates, then your case may be delayed based on your spouse’s counsel’s ineffective work. Your case may be delayed even if your attorney is ready, willing and able to go, because your spouse’s counsel has more than one matter on or has not done what was required during the interim period between court dated. Instead of getting anything done, the case merely gets adjourned. Appear, conference, adjourn and repeat!
So, how is Collaborative or Mediation different and how is your money not merely spent but is actually working more effectively for you? In those modalities, your money is actually being used for the time that is being spent actively working on the resolution of your matter. No one is being paid merely to sit around and do nothing! Instead, the professionals are being paid to actively work on your matter to resolve the issues, with each of the participants in Mediation or each of the members of the Collaborative team working on the issues that need to be resolved to ultimately get the dissolution or divorce. That includes drawing the paper work that needs to be done to ultimately get the divorce. Would you rather pay someone who is actively working on your case and you can see the time that is actually being spent for something constructive to be done, or would you rather watch that thousand dollar burn up while your attorney and the people on your case are sitting and waiting for their five minutes before the Judge.
In addition, the totality of time that is spent on your case is greatly diminished in both Mediation and Collaborative Processes, while a case can languish in the court system for a year or more, depending on how litigious the parties choose to be. Your Collaborative attorneys and team members are not faced with the court’s calendar and lack of personal available to process your case. You are paying for people to work on your case right away. So long as the participants are cooperative, your case can be processed much more expeditiously then one that is languishing on the court’s calendar waiting for the availability of the next court date or having months go on between scheduled court appearances or court dates.