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Five Things You Can Do To Minimize Attorneys Fees In A High-Conflict Divorce

Divorces, like marriages, come in all different styles.  While few divorces are without any conflict at all (although they do exist), most divorces are medium-level conflict.  This conflict stems from not only the incompatibilities that led to the dissolution, but also grief over the end of the marriage, anger at the other spouse, and deep concerns over the health and well-being of children.  All of this is quite normal.  Waterfall, Economidis, Caldwell, Hanshaw & Villamana, P.C., has five divorce attorneys in Tucson, Arizona with significant experience in and knowledge about how all conflict levels affect divorce proceedings and the litigation and decision-making processes.

Then there is the high-conflict divorce, where all of the normal conflict is so elevated that if it were rated on the Fujita scale it would be an EF-5.  These divorces take down everyone in their wake and take a heavy toll on the parties, the parties’ children, and even the legal professionals involved.  Legal fees become extremely high due to endless phone calls and e-mails, emergency motions, and courtroom battles over issues that would be settled in cases with less conflict.

As a party in a high-conflict divorce, you can keep your legal fees down and help your attorney present you in the best possible light by doing five simple things that do not require you to give in or give up.

  1. Get a Therapist. Many people spend hours on the phone or in e-mails to their attorneys about the trauma the other party has caused them.  While it is important that we know both the facts and the emotional and psychological impact of the other party’s behavior in the marriage, therapists and medical doctors are more qualified (and, generally, cheaper, give that divorce attorneys tend to have higher hourly rates) to work through the healing process with you.  Before you tell yourself that you can’t afford a therapist, stop and consider how much money you have spent calling your attorney about the latest abusive text message or rude e-mail.  Given that divorce law is his or her profession, your attorney has some tools to help you through the occasional rough spot, but he or she is not the person who will ultimately get you through the night.
  2. Follow the Rules. When your spouse fails to turn any documents over on time or never, ever notifies you in the agreed-upon timeframe of a school event or birthday party, do not retaliate in kind.  Eventually, you will end up in court over these issues, and instead of the judge understanding your point and ordering that your spouse both comply and pay your legal fees, the judge will instead see two immature people who are wasting valuable court time and likely come away not having a favorable impression of either party.  Imagine what the judge thinks the next time you are in court (because you will be in a high-conflict situation).  If documents have to be turned over, turn them over.  If you are supposed to make the kids available every evening at 7:00 to talk to the other parent, do it.  These little things that show you have respect for the court and the legal process will give you credibility in the courtroom.
  3. Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts. Do not breathe a word about your soon-to-be-ex on social media.  You may post inspirational messages about helping yourself, spiritual rebirth, etc., but no GIFs showing your thinly-disguised spouse with a donkey’s head or any other potentially negative image or generalized statement about how some people will die alone.  All divorce attorneys understand the temptation, but you must assume that 1) every item that you post on social media, even on a “private” page, may end up in front of the judge; and 2) judges aren’t stupid and will not buy your defense that you were really not talking about your spouse when you go to contest the motion for contempt the other party filed for violating the preliminary injunction (SeeR.S. §25-315).  When you get that urge, see Item #1 in this list.  Your anger, hurt, and desire to scream from the rooftops is understandable—your attorney gets it.  It’s just completely self-destructive in the legal process.
  4. If You Must Communicate with Your Spouse, Be Civil. Your lawyer can virtually guarantee that every slightly hostile e-mail or text message will end up as a trial exhibit.  In extremely high-conflict situations, many spouses hit “record” on their phones during every conversation (legalities of those issues aside).  If you want your lawyer to show that your spouse calls you names by submitting text exchanges as exhibits in a parenting time hearing, then your communications should be free of similar behavior.  Both judges and lawyers can see when two people just can’t disengage, and it informs what they sense will happen in the parenting relationships with the children.  Your attorney can definitely help edit e-mails before you send them to your spouse, but you should work with your therapist in order to learn the guidelines to how to respond to abusive communication by the other person.
  5. Organize the Documents that You Provide to Your Attorney. High-conflict divorces tend to be document intensive.  The other side always wants more disclosure and discovery than you think is reasonable (take your attorney’s advice about which requests to fight and which ones to just comply with), and your attorney’s office has to review it, learn what’s in it, and get it to the opposing counsel in an organized fashion.  Three years of credit card statements organized chronologically by account number will take significantly less time for the paralegal or attorney to review and disclose than a stack of 200 pages you fished out of an old banker’s box in the garage that may or may not be in any order or relevant to the time period requested.

          There are many excellent books about navigating a high-conflict divorce, and you need an experienced attorney who has successfully handled high-conflict situations and who has a well-known courtroom record to help you navigate this.  The five divorce attorneys at Waterfall, Economidis, Caldwell, Hanshaw & Villamana, P.C. have this experience and reputation and are available to advise you about your options.

Article Written By: Megan C. Hill

Family Law

Published 2/26/2018