When marriages break down, it often starts off as something small, and it just slowly builds over time. Maybe you noticed you and your spouse just always seem to find something new to fight about. Maybe you realized the real reason you’ve been staying late at work is so that you don’t have to go home. Maybe you’re just tired of being up all night worrying because you’re too wound up to sleep. Or maybe you can’t stand that pit in your stomach you feel every time you have to lie to a friend or family member about how your family is doing.
Maybe it’s time to admit it’s over. Sure, you and your spouse still love each other. You can still talk to each other, and make it through the day. But the spark is gone. And it’s not coming back. But you don’t know the path ahead. What do you do now? What happens next? Who can you turn to and ask?
Choosing the right attorney for your divorce case is extremely important. A divorce case will touch on every aspect of your life. It’s critical that you pick your attorney wisely, because they are the person you will trust to help you through a very difficult time. There are a number of things to consider when deciding on an attorney to hire for your divorce. Before considering those things, however, it’s important to know what typical divorce looks like.
A Typical Divorce
Most divorce cases begin in roughly the same way: A potential client sits down with an attorney and tells them the story of what’s happened and why they’re in the room. The attorney will ask a couple of questions, and maybe ask a few more depending on whether anything additional comes up. If the attorney decides to take the case, the conversation shifts, and fees are discussed. All too often, that conversation begins and ends with an attorney requesting a retainer. The client will give an amount of money to the attorney, who will deposit the money in the attorney’s trust account. As the attorney works on the client’s divorce, the attorney will bill the client an hourly rate for the work the attorney and his staff do. The attorney will pay those invoices or client bills with the money the client deposited with the attorney. At the end of the divorce, the attorney will either return any remaining money to the client, or, as is more likely, will call the client and inform them that the client has to pay more money to the attorney.
Some cases require retainers and hourly billing. With exceptionally large cases, or cases that could potentially become large, hourly billing against a retainer may ensure an attorney or a firm is fairly compensated for their work.
Not every case is a large case, and not every case requires a retainer and hourly billing. Many of the common complaints about law firms and attorneys stem from hourly billing. Consider this: You hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce. The attorney begins preparing divorce paperwork and files it with the court. It takes the attorney a bit longer than initially expected because your case had a few small wrinkles that came up. Your bill is a bit higher than you expected, but your attorney assured you it was important, and, really, what are you going to do accept their word for it?
Next, the attorney wants to serve your spouse with papers. Maybe you didn’t tell your spouse about the divorce ahead of time, and the divorce papers come as a big shock to your spouse. Maybe you did tell your spouse ahead of time, but your spouse didn’t really understand what being served with papers would mean. Maybe your spouse simply decided it would be best to hire their own attorney. So your spouse has an attorney who says they have just a couple of items they want to clear up to preserve your spouse’s rights. You all meet, the attorneys disagree, and decide to set everything for a hearing. After the meeting, you think that maybe there’s an easy solution to the disagreement, and you send an email to your attorney about your thoughts. Your attorney responds to your email. A few days later, you get a bill in the mail from your attorney. That brief email cost you one hundred dollars. You make a mental note: “Don’t contact attorney again.”
Why pay the cost for your attorney to respond to emails, when you can just tell them everything they need to know at one of the scheduled meetings? One’s coming up in a couple weeks, to prepare for the hearing. In the meantime, though, your attorney keeps working. When the day of the hearing finally comes, you wait at court for an hour or two before your case is called. The attorneys stand and speak with a judge for maybe fifteen minutes. Both sides make a brief argument, and the judge asks if the parties have attempted to come to an agreement. The attorneys say it can’t be reconciled, and the judge sets the matter for trial.
A few months later, you get to repeat the process all over again. The trial takes three days–days you have to take off from work. In the meantime, you’ve had three or four meetings with your attorney to prepare for it. You manage to get through the trial. Finally, your attorney sends you the paperwork that will finish your divorce. Your attorney also sends you your bill, where you discover you went from a simple, straight-forward case that was mostly agreed to between you and your spouse, to owing your attorney $10,000. And your spouse has a similar bill.
This sort of story isn’t unheard of. It’s not even unlikely. All of the attorney’s work can be accounted for: There is time spent hours researching and drafting a memo here, a half-day in court there, and there was that one meeting with opposing counsel your attorney had to prepare for. The attorney was representing you and your case to the best of their ability. If that representation turns out to cost more than you’re comfortable with, well, you should have understood what effective representation was going to cost you at the beginning of the case.
What usually goes unsaid is that in the vast majority of divorce cases, all of the additional work an attorney might end up performing might not be completely unnecessary. All too often, the return on a “victory” in a divorce case simply isn’t greater than the cost it takes to secure it. With a wider view of the case, it would have been clear that the battle just wasn’t worth fighting. If the attorneys had approached each other with a clear understanding about what the clients’ wanted, there would have been no litigation. And if your spouse hadn’t been surprised, or felt hurt, or insecure, or whatever it was with the divorce paperwork, and then retained counsel, the whole thing could have been quickly and easily, with one attorney creating the agreements you and your spouse worked out. But it didn’t go that way, and now it’s months later and there’s barely any value left in the marital property to divide.
The Future of Divorce
At Crider Law Group, we understand that not every divorce needs litigation. We know that many people going through a divorce really need understanding, some time, some coaching, and some guidance. For people who share this view, we provide our services in planning and preparing an uncontested divorce, from start to finish.
We work on a flat-fee basis for people with an agreed or uncontested divorce for a very simple reason: This is your case. We’re going to keep it about you. With a flat fee, there can’t be any concerns about cost. Do you need a meeting every week for the next month? Then that’s part of the service. Do you have an email you didn’t realize you needed to send to us until three in the morning? That’s covered, too. So are phone calls whenever you want, or access to constantly-updated forms and documents. Your case, and your attorney, are at your fingertips, because it’s your case. Because you pay only a flat fee, we don’t have to worry about anything other than providing you the best possible service, and tailoring that service to your case, and your needs.
Not every divorce needs litigation. In fact, for most people and for most cases, it’s completely unnecessary. What most people really need, is some guidance, a helping hand navigating the court system, and a safe place to talk about options and the future.
A divorce can’t happen overnight, as much as we might wish otherwise. There are several waiting periods built into every divorce by state law, and they cannot be avoided.
What we’ve done is substantially streamline our agreed or uncontested divorce process, so that much of the work is done before the time required by state law, so that everything progresses quickly and smoothly.
We divide our the process into three main steps:
1. The Kick-Off Meeting
The kick-off meeting usually occurs after you’ve met with us and decided that we’re a good fit to represent you in your divorce. During the kick-off meeting, we meet with you and your spouse and collect the necessary information to begin preparing your divorce documents.
You’ll have some homework to do before the kick-off meeting: In California, even in an uncontested divorce, both parties must exchange certain financial information, including account statements showing the value of your property. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut here. For most people, finding those records will take some legwork, and it has to be done. But you’ll be ahead of the game because we are here to guide you, tell you exactly what you need, and answer any questions you may have.
After we prepare the initial divorce paperwork and file it with the Court, we’ll ensure both parties are served with all necessary documents.
2. The Marriage Settlement Agreement
The next step is to begin formalizing the terms of the divorce. Often, spouses have a general understanding of how they want to resolve their divorce, and what agreements they rae willing to make, but they usually haven’t fully consider all of the specific details. A Marriage Settlement Agreement, or MSA, should be as detailed as possible, because that is the document that the judge refers to when entering the final judgment.
3. The Final Judgment
After the terms of the Marriage Settlement Agreement have been finalized and you and your spouse have signed it, the last step in your contested divorce is to prepare the final judgment documents for court. These documents will be submitted and reviewed by the court. The court’s review can take some time. The court will check the final documents and the court’s entire case file to make sure that everything is in order. It is only after the court clerk reviews the final judgment and the court’s entire case file that the clerk will submit the documents to a judge for signature. Typically, the review process can take somewhere between four and eight weeks, depending on the county.
Crider Law Group is committed to the idea that each divorce case is unique, and so it’s crucial to approach each case as flexibly as possible. After all, it’s your divorce. We discuss our flat fee agreements openly at the beginning of each and every case so that there are no hidden charges, and no surprises. There will be no hidden costs passed on to you. Once we’re hired, our only interest is the best possible resolution for you.
We will prepare and file all necessary documents (except for an order dividing certain retirement accounts, which may be done for an additional charge), including the court documents and the Marriage Settlement Agreement, perform any necessary legal research, and we will attempt to negotiate a settlement between you and your spouse. You can call, email, or meet with us as often as necessary at no additional expense, and you will have access to an online client portal containing your entire case file. Best of all, you’ll have a team of trained and experienced people working to complete your case in as hassle-free and effective manner.
Not every person has a divorce case that is appropriate for our uncontested divorce service. But in the majority of situations, litigation consumes far more benefit than it provides. If you’re considering a divorce, and think that you and your spouse might be interested in an agreed and uncontested divorce, please contact us to discuss your options.