Tips for Reducing your Costs
Legal fees related to separation and divorce can escalate quickly, but there are several strategies that can reduce your costs and ensure the process does not strain finances unnecessarily.
Consult a lawyer before acting.
It is important to obtain legal advice early and to know your rights and obligations before committing to any settlement or agreement. Varying an order (getting the court to change an order) that does not represent your actual living circumstances is an expensive and onerous undertaking.
Communicate with your spouse in a constructive manner, and be willing to compromise. The separation process is not meant to be punitive, nor is it advisable to engage in retaliation. The courts frown on this type of behaviour. When you are able to negotiate with your former spouse or partner, you will reduce the amount of time that a lawyer needs to spend advocating on your behalf. Parties that are unable to agree on all issues (for example, spousal support) may still be able to come to an agreement about less contentious issues, such as property division.
Look to other forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation.
Although you may want your day in court, be aware that you are often paying your lawyer to sit and wait for your matter to be heard. This is a costly exercise, considering the current backlog of the Ontario family court system; parties can (and do) wait several hours to be heard and are also subject to being rescheduled if matters run long. Mediation can be used to facilitate negotiated settlements with the assistance of a neutral third party mediator. This allows the parties to control the decision-making process. In general, mediation offers no downside (other than the cost of the mediator, and lawyers if they attend) in that it is a voluntary process that does not impact court proceedings should parties fail to reach an agreement. Further, mediators are trained listeners cognizant of power imbalances and can often create a level playing field where such imbalances exist.
Communicate with your lawyer efficiently.
Legal fees are billed in six-minute increments. Consider the time it takes your lawyer to read and respond to an email. In some instances, a scheduled telephone call may be more a cost effective way to address your questions. When talking to your lawyer, be concise and to-the-point.
Seek professional support.
Your lawyer is your advocate and source for legal expertise, not your counsellor or therapist. Hourly rates for professional counselling are significantly less than hourly legal fees and are often covered by extended health plans. Even if you don’t have extended health benefits, it is more cost effective to discuss the emotional aspects of your case with a psychologist or other counselling professional than with your lawyer.
Consider unbundled services.
In addition to offering comprehensive legal services, we at Feldstein Family Law Group can act on a limited retainer basis, or provide what are known as “unbundled” legal services. We can coach and prepare our clients to attend court on their own behalf. We also offer drafting services to help clients prepare materials on their own. See Our Services for more information on the various service options we offer. It is important to note that while unbundled services offer a compromise between potentially prohibitive legal costs and the difficulty of navigating the legal system, there is a significant risk to representing yourself in court.
Include in any agreement or order the methods for resolving future disagreements with your former spouse.
Finally, whether you choose to use the services of a lawyer or proceed on your own, be sure to have included in any agreement or order the methods for resolving future disagreements with your former spouse. As noted above, using alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation or collaboration, can provide a significant reduction in legal fees, and parties are wise to include dispute resolution strategies other than the courts in their agreements.