Financial cost and emotional cost in any divorce proceeding often are two different things — they are costs that each litigant in a divorce must balance in their own personal way.
Financial costs often are significant. Divorce lawyers, like any other professionals, are paid according to their skill, training and experience. Thus, one can expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $7,500 up front depending on both the complexity of the legal issues involved as well as the quality of counsel selected. In addition to the legal fees, some cases require “expert testimony” about the value of certain significant assets, i.e. business interests, the marital residence, rental properties, art work and more.
Even if there are few marital assets, or worse yet, if there is only marital debt, there is plenty to “fight about.” For most people, in fact everyone to varying degrees, going through a divorce is emotional. Typically, an amicable divorce is in the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Most divorce litigants are not “bad people,” but rather under normal circumstances are good, hard-working, law-abiding citizens who, because of the emotions involved, are behaving badly. Otherwise rational people will spend $2,500 in attorney fees and costs fighting about an asset worth half that value because it is about the emotion not the money.
There are only two ways for a divorce lawyer to be paid: By the hour, which is the most common; or on a flat fee basis. There are many times when divorce litigants prefer to be acrimonious rather than parsimonious — believing they can spend the other side into submission, or make it so difficult the other side will crater and give him/her everything. The “I can spend you into submission” strategy is rarely effective, at least when both parties are represented by counsel. In the cases where one party has a distinct financial advantage, the economically disadvantaged party can apply for temporary attorney fees and costs, to be paid immediately by the party in control of the resources. In the proper case, such temporary motions often are granted by the trial court in order to level the playing field.
Absent the death of a child, divorce is the most emotionally traumatic experience that one likely will experience. It is when there are children involved the litigants must most often weigh the two types of costs involved. At what point is aggressively pursuing the opposing parent the “right” thing to do to ensure a fair trial cross the line of engaging in action that is emotionally destructive to the child(ren)? Of course, that is a question that must be answered on a case-by-case basis. In most cases, parents easily lose sight of that line and, without intent or knowledge, cause untold psychological or emotional damage to their child(ren).