The Costs of Resolving Family Law Disputes
By Jim Jeffcott
Inevitably during a family law consultation the question of cost is addressed. Usually and understandably, the client asks the question, “What is all this going to cost?”
I always answer that I cannot give any useful reply to the question. Often we do not even know which process option we will be using to address the matter. Even if we did know which process we would be using, we cannot reasonably predict the cost because we do not know what the response of the other party will be and we cannot know all of the issues which will arise during the process or what barriers to resolution may arise. I advise them that the two most significant drivers of cost will be the extent of the conflict that exists or arises and the complication of their particular circumstances.
Since I do adversarial and non-adversarial processes, I am able to comment about my experience. I can indicate that litigation tends to be the most expensive process by far. Arbitration tends to be less expensive because we have more control over our process and we choose the decision-maker, who tends to have expertise in the areas in dispute. This is despite the fact that we have to pay the arbitrator and often for the facility where the proceeding takes place. Collaborative process and mediation are usually less expensive options, although they can sometimes become quite expensive as well. I acknowledge that when using the team approach in Collaborative, there can be a higher up front cost than for some other processes because there are often several professionals involved. My experience however, is that Collaborative Process tends to be more cost effective because we distribute work to be done by the appropriate expert in the circumstance (such as having the parties work on a parenting plan with the Family Relations Professional).
What I do is tell my client that we will first need to determine what process we will be using to resolve the dispute and then I can give them my opinion about what I expect the first steps to cost. We make a plan based on those expectations and the financial retainer that I ask for is based on what we decide. I let the client know that I will try to give them an idea of cost as we proceed through each step in the process and that I am always willing to discuss cost and work with them to achieve a resolution, in the most cost effective way possible.
My experience seems to be borne out in the experiences of others, as is discussed in the recent article “The Cost of Family Law Disputes.” The URL is attached for your information.
The members of the LMR Family Law Group would be pleased to discuss the process options and the costs of those processes with you. Please contact anyone of us to arrange a meeting.[ssba]