How to Save Thousands in Legal Fees (and Not Lose Your Mind)
It is possible to process your divorce with compassion and care.
Posted November 30, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
“I don’t want to even consider divorce because I cannot imagine how much I will have to pay in legal fees!”
I hear this refrain often from clients who are considering divorce.
No matter how terrible their relationship is or how unhappy my clients are day to day, the fear of divorce court keeps them stuck.
As a psychologist tasked to help people release psychological pain and step in to health, it is crushing to hear people hold back on change because of fear of the legal system.
I have to admit that before I started doing this work, I also thought of divorce court as a scary hellscape.
I now know, thanks to working with wonderful divorce attorneys and mediators, that there are ways to legally process your divorce that allow for compassion and care.
The work of my colleague Gabrielle Hartley, Esq., a leading online mediator and author of Better Apart; The Radically Positive Way to Separate, exemplifies how the dissolution of your marriage can be approached with an abundant mindset not one of deprivation.
Gabrielle recently shared with me that she is all too familiar with the deprivation mentality in matrimonial law. “After 25 years in private practice, and clerking for a judge in New York State matrimonial court I am crystal clear that for most people, when it comes to affairs of the heart, and of the pocketbook, court is not a magic bullet. The divorce process by definition can be all about the money. The win (and the loss). But in the end, court can be so ruinous to the human spirit, which is why after 20 years I moved my practice to nearly exclusively strategic consulting and mediation.”
Gabrielle, and other mediators, “love the idea of bringing people to a reasonable meeting of the minds so that they and their family can move forward with grace and ease post-divorce.” She offers them a heart-centered approach to dissolving and releasing their relationship.
Mediation sees each individual as a whole person with needs and desires, not just someone who will either be a winner or a loser.
Mediation is a gift to those who want to honor both their feelings and their ex-partner’s feelings.
Gabrielle cautions that “using a mediator who is a neutral third-party to resolve your differences should not be done without careful strategic planning.”
Here are five important tips that you should consider prior to engaging with a mediator.
Be Prepared: Preparation is key for your nervous system to feel regulated and calm. The more prepared you are the less emotionally reactive you will be. Talk to different mediators and friends who have used mediators to find out about their experiences. Gabrielle also suggests you do preparation by getting clear on your finances. She suggests that “you need to know what you are giving away before you make any agreements at all.” She warns against even saying things like, “that sounds good” until you have the full picture. Another good way to prepare is to consult a strong lawyer who will tell you the range of possible outcomes if you were to wind up in court.
Know Your Mind: Gabrielle suggests, “only make agreements after you have had ample opportunity to take a step back to consider the pros and cons of what is on the table.” You should consider your needs and desires. Don’t hold back from what you truly feel you want. Gabrielle smartly suggests you “ask yourself to differentiate between your positions and interests. Your positions are what you want (i.e., to keep the house) whereas your interests are what you need (i.e., stability, to live near your community, not move your kids from their school, etc.)”
Consider Your Spouse’s Interests: I know this might be a tough one to swallow, but keep in mind that the goal here is for you to feel better. But, as Gabrielle suggests, “if you can figure out how to give your spouse what they need to feel resolved, you are more likely to come up with an agreement that suits both of you and your children.” In her experience “the more you give, in most circumstances, the more you will receive.” This is likely based on the tendency for others to act altruistically when you make the first move.
Be Honest With Yourself and Others: I have written a lot about communication and boundaries on this blog. They are really important when mediating. As Gabrielle explains, “One of the worst things you can do in mediation is to say you agree to something just to avoid a conversation. If you say yes to something that is not truly resonant with how you feel, you are highly likely to wind up back in court having a bigger argument than you would have had if you had just engaged in the conversation from the start.” So, when you feel the tightening in your stomach or chest, allow it to be there and still speak your truth.
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Clarity Is Key: Keep in mind that while you might want to rush through the discomfort of mediating on touchy subjects, you need to leave with clarity. Be specific, be clear, and be descriptive. Gabrielle adds that “unclear agreements or agreements to agree, are not enforceable. In an effort to ‘just get it done’ often mediated agreements are missing necessary elements.” So take your time. You are worth it.
Mediation is a process that takes time. Gabrielle reminds us that “as difficult as it may be to sit through long meetings, you will be grateful for years to come if you take the time to enter a thoughtful resolution that takes into account all essential factors and needs. While the finish line may be compelling, sometimes slowest truly is fastest.”