Five Legal Mistakes Clients Make When Going Through a Divorce

Mistake # 1:

There’s a preconceived idea out there that you have to have a lawyer to be able to get divorced. Now, in many cases, this is true, but there are a few exceptions to this rule. If your financial situation or child-rearing circumstances are such that everything is mixed together and confusing, then yes!  Or, you are facing World War Three and need someone to help communicate. I implore you to hire a good lawyer. But in some of our client’s cases, everything is pretty amicable. If you think you can work together and still have each other’s interest at heart, you may not need to spend your hard earned money on legal fees. You both may agree to work together on bringing up your children and putting their interest first, then great. Have minimal assets and not much too divided. Or like a couple* I am currently working with who just sat down around their kitchen table, using our legal questionnaire, listed all their assets and liabilities and agreed to divide everything down the middle 50/50.  They have had very little guidance from us, but see no reason to make this anymore hurtful than it needs to be. These guys are rare but why spend ten grand each on legal bills? Some couples don’t need to and can submit the paperwork themselves online. Or do most of the negotiations together, with a little hand holding from us and employ the lawyers to draw up the consent orders, saving them thousands in fees, time and emotions.

Or, you are facing World War Three and need someone to help communicate.’

Mistake #2:

But in many cases where a lawyer is a necessity, choosing the right one can be the difference between a good outcome and a costly one. Like anything, there are good and bad, and the legal game is no different to any other business. The big question is how do you know? Between a good lawyer and a bad can be thousands of dollars, either being paid in legal fees or worst yet, not fighting for your entitlements. Recently a lovely client who has two small children and recently diagnosed with a debilitating illness acquired because she felt her lawyer wasn’t fighting hard enough for her rights. Her ex-husband’s legal team were in her words ‘ bullies’.  And she felt like her lawyer just wanted to get it over and done. This couples combined asset pool was worth just short of $1,000,000.00. Now her lawyer was happy with a 60/40 split in her favor. But when we reviewed the file, it was evident that she was entitled to much more given the circumstances and future needs. Our lawyer said easily 70 – 75 %. In this clients case, the difference in choosing a good lawyer or a bad will cost her $100,000.00 minimum at settlement.

‘In this clients case, the difference in choosing a good lawyer or a bad would have cost her $100,000.00 minimum at settlement.’

Mistake # 3:

One of the biggest mistakes that I see is when clients think that they have to pay a large legal firm to represent them for the best outcome. In some cases, this might be true, but it is not about the firm it is about the lawyer. Every day, I have people come to me who have spent anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 on legal fees with corporate firms, and the level of service they receive is terrible. It seems from the experience l have witnessed the bigger the firm, the longer it takes. I recently had a client tell me how she was on a Skype meeting with her lawyer, and in walked another four lawyers, and she thought they were training and witnessing how he carried out the meeting. The other people in the room added no value, did not even comment. When she received a bill for $22,000**, a month later, she asked ‘what for?’ She was told, the cost of five lawyers in the room. She hadn’t agreed to this and was shocked when she received her bill, but these are some of the stories that we continually hear.

So just because you’re not paying the most expensive hourly rate does not mean you can’t get the best lawyer to represent you. There are just as many good lawyers in the suburbs that can deal with, let’s call them everyday divorce, and those lawyers aren’t going to charge as much because they simply don’t have the overheads of a city firm.

‘There are just as many good lawyers in the suburbs’

Mistake # 4:

Why do so many people take on the first lawyer they meet who turns out to be wrong?  This problem can be avoided. You need to interview your lawyer. When you are hiring anyone to be part of your team, it is important to know they’re the best person for the job. To do that you have to have aligned goals and make sure you both have the same expectations and agreed outcomes. Make sure the lawyer discusses the consequence and benefits of actions taken, such as keeping the family home or a certain asset. Reevaluate. Project manage your spend.  Ask questions, review accounts and ask for clarification of costs. Don’t be intimidated and if you feel this way, be mindful, as this is a train wreck waiting to happen and where most costs get out of control. Communication is critical. Confirming the lawyer is not making decisions without your approval. People often comment, ‘something in my gut said I should have sacked him/her, but l felt I was too far down the track to change lawyers. But in hindsight…..’ If you think you’re on two different pages, cut your losses and move now. Don’t continue doing the same thing, because as Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.” To help with this issue l have put together; how to choose the right family lawyer.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.”

Mistake # 5:

Just because your best friend works or went to a certain lawyer does not mean that that lawyer is the right person for you. If they recommend a professional by all means, go and have a meeting, ask questions, get to know the person you want to represent you but remember, no two divorces are the same. They’re all completely different, just like our DNA. You and your partner are two completely different people than the couple who referred you. Their partner could have had an agenda which made them want to settle quickly. They may have entered their relationship with a larger asset pool or could have a business. Or theirs could have been quite simple and therefore got it all over and done with quickly at a really good cost, where yours could be more confusing. You might need a special sort of help. He or she might be prolonging the supply of documents which need to be disclosed, and not coming to the party and being amicable in mediation. So don’t ever think just because someone else went to a lawyer, that lawyer is for you. You need to complete due diligence. Just like a financial advisor, you’re not going to turn up and hire someone to look after your money if they’ve got no experience, they’re not the right person for the job. Do the same thing when picking your lawyer.

‘ But remember, no two divorces are the same.’

Now, something that I do when I employ professionals to help me, whether that be personal or business including my investment portfolio or someone in my team, can. I put together a list of questions, and I interview them. I’ve done it for my accountant, my financial advisor. Pretend you are your own HR department and your life is your business. When you’re hiring someone, you want them to be the best you can afford. To add value to the problem at hand with qualities specific to your needs. I see it time and time again where people walk into the office of the very first lawyer*** and hire them. At a time when life is in complete disarray, and they feel out of control. It is now that you must take back control. This one mistake could be the silliest things I can see any person doing at such a precarious time in their life.

‘Pretend you are your own HR department and your life is your business.’

*Couple have received minimal advice from our business as to what the court would consider fair and reasonable and have worked on that information. Taking into consideration: the ages of their children, incomes, future needs, etc.

**I have instructed the client to ask for a breakdown of the cost from the legal company and what service they provided to her case. If she is not happy with the response to go to the legal board in her State and make a complaint.

***Our lawyers have been put through a stringent interview process and as per my book, the Jelly bean jar, we place our clients into one of the three categories. Thus making sure we have the right team in place for every client.

About the author:

Tanya Somerton

Tanya Somerton is the ‘Divorce Angel’, whose business is to facilitate a seamless and amicable divorce and separation with the aid of her ‘Army of Angels.’ Tanya provides a step by step process which limits cost and conflict that sees you achieving your most financially beneficial outcome possible, now and for the future.

Tanya is also the Director of TLC Investment Group, a finance and mortgage company. She helps her clients budget and plan, rather than wondering if you can keep the family home. If you need help and support in this area, contact tanya@tlcinvestmentgroup.com.au for help and advice.

She is also the author of ‘The Jelly Bean Jar – Empowering independence through Divorce’. If you are looking to prevent any mistakes and save money this book is a must. Purchase your copy here