How to keep costs down in a California divorce with kids and assets

by - February 14, 2011

One of the biggest you will hear from some of the most well educated and affluent divorcing men and women in Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Napa and Santa Clara counties is that divorce is expensive. Often very, horribly, terribly expensive.

And the truth is they often are.

For a reasonably affluent San Francisco bay area couple with young children and assets with estimated values of one to five million dollars, divorce costs can easily range between $20,000 to $100,000 for a relatively friendly – only slightly challenging – divorce. And several hundred thousand dollars for very challenging – hotly contested divorces.

So, what can a smart successful divorcing man or woman in California do to reduce his/her divorce costs, which for purposes of this article includes all legal fees and costs?

Smart, successful people can do a number of things to reduce their costs in a California divorce whether relatively easy to resolve or extremely difficult. I list a few of the options here with my personal opinions or experiences with each over the last 20 years of my career as a mediator and attorney.

1. Represent yourself. Would you choose to hire a doctor or operate on yourself? If your answer is “hire a doctor”, in my opinion and to put it bluntly, I would hire a divorce attorney to help you get divorced. If you and your spouse both work and have a combined annual gross income of $200,000 or more gross per year, it really doesn’t make any sense for you to represent yourself in divorce. The divorce process is too complicated and important for you, someone who has never been divorced before and is not an attorney, to do while keeping the rest of your life on track. It is much easier and safer to hire a reasonably priced good attorney to do the work for you. That is my opinion as a professional woman and attorney of 20 years who last week, prepared and filed all of the legal documents necessary for an affluent San Francisco bay area couple to get an uncontested divorce in California. Even with years of experience, while preparing the divorce forms and pleadings last week, I had to read each of the forms very closely (even though I have seen them thousands of times), look up the Court’s local rules, read sections of the Family Code (divorce laws) and other things to confirm the strict requirements for getting legally divorced in California had been met. If the uncontested divorce process can be a little labor intensive for experienced divorce attorneys what do you think it would be like for busy, busy you? My case in point. That said, if after reading this you still want to represent yourself in divorce, I suggest you hire a licensed and experienced divorce attorney to consult with you and/or provide unbundled legal services, like preparing your divorce documents. Consulting divorce attorneys like me can help you:

  • understand all applicable divorce laws and procedures
  • identify all of the issues that need to be resolved in your divorce
  • brainstorming your options for the divorce process and resolution
  • crafting a settlement offer to present to your spouse
  • determine if the services of another professional are necessary (i.e. forensic accountant)
  • preparing divorce pleadings for either an contested or uncontested divorce
  • ensure your divorce pleadings do what you need
  • answer your questions and give you legal advice