Every client wants to know how much their divorce will cost. Answering that question is tricky because the cost of a collaborative divorce depends on the complexity of the case and the cooperativeness of the clients. No attorney can guarantee that a divorce will cost no more than a certain amount because there are too many unknown and uncontrollable factors involved. But, it’s important for the client to have some idea about the potential costs they are facing when he or she engages you to manage their divorce. Be sure to give them information about the following points when you answer this important question.
1. Costs Are Uncertain. Be sure to explain that it’s impossible to know exactly what a collaborative divorce will cost because you need to learn about the dynamics of the couple, their abilities to understand the complexities of the divorce process, and their ability to make important decisions.
2. Billing Arrangements. Let your client know your hourly rate, retainer requirements, how you charge for your time, and what other expenses you will add to the invoice. Tell him or her if you charge for document preparation, phone calls, e-mails, and travel time.
3. Range of Costs. Discuss the likely range of costs for typical divorces similar to theirs. Share with your client the lower and upper range of likely costs and point out to him or her that fighting costs extra, even though it’s rarely helpful.
4. Cooperation Lowers Costs. Explain to your client that clear communication, effective problem-solving strategies, and a focus on the issues will make the collaborative process more efficient and cost effective. If both clients are motivated to work within the collaborative process, share data, be honest with each other, and totally transparent, the cost of the divorce will be lower.
5. Obstacles to Settlement. Explain to your client some of the typical obstacles that occur during the collaborative process, including anger, confusion, positional bargaining, blaming, and reluctance to finish the process if one spouse doesn’t want the divorce. Any of these factors can increase the cost of the collaborative divorce.
6. The Team Is Cost Conscious. Assure the client that the collaborative team is interested in being cost effective and saving them time and money. Promise your client you will be organized, on time, and focused during the joint meetings to move the process forward. This will reassure the client that the collaborative team is mindful of their need to save money during the process.
7. How Fees Will Be Paid. During the first meeting discuss how professional fees will be paid, what will be the source of funds, and revisit this issue during the course of the collaborative divorce process.
8. Share Fees or Each Pay Own? Discuss whether professional fees will be shared and paid from community funds or whether each client will pay his or her own attorney fees. Discuss whether they will share fees equally, be responsible for different percentages of the attorney’s fees, or some other arrangement.
9. Collaborative Divorce Is a Bargain. Finally, review with your client the value of a collaborative divorce to maintain the integrity of their relationship, the cooperativeness of their co-parenting following the divorce, and how a collaborative divorce protects their children during the process.