Divorce is a storm. It disrupts, agitates, and confuses—or depending on the force and level of the storm, destroys—a person’s comfort zone or customary way of life. Thus, it makes sense that divorce can be one of the most difficult times a person can face. Yet, divorce is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for a new beginning, for personal transformation. What got wrecked in the storm can be rebuilt or replaced with something stronger. Recognizing this gem-in-the-rough is key to getting through what can truly be a convoluted legal process and overwhelming personal process. Getting the right support for both the legal process and the personal process is key. While there is plenty of skilled legal help available, what often gets ignored is the personal support piece. Implementing and adapting to change is a personal process and by focusing on the personal process of divorce we can swing open the doors to personal transformation.
As an experienced Utah divorce lawyer, I have witnessed hundreds of divorces. Over the years, I found that although my clients may have initially come to me for legal support, they would return to me for personal support. I found I had an ability to help people get “unstuck” from what felt like limbo, or a constant holding pattern. The feeling was mutual, too, because I felt called to coach my clients. I wanted to maximize not only their legal success, but also their personal success as well because I saw that the two were interconnected; those who successfully mastered their personal process, also weathered the storm of divorce successfully.
I believe I am able to empathize and connect with my clients on a level that allows me to step into their shoes as best I can and walk the pathway of divorce with them and experience what my clients may be feeling, grasping the situation from their point of view. My client-connection process helps me to recognize patterns people may be stuck in and identify where they are in the cycle of change so that I can expertly guide them to safety.
As your divorce coach, I can help bridge the gap of where you are now and guide you to where you want to be. I can assist you at any stage in the divorce process—before, during, or after. As an experienced Utah divorce lawyer, I can help educate you about the legal process in Utah and identify what steps you can expect along the way. In this capacity, I have been successful helping clients avoid common mistakes of divorce. I have helped clients achieve their goals by standing in as a “thinking partner” and “sounding board.” I have assisted clients develop the courage to start their divorce, and I have helped many adapt to change in their post-divorce world.
As your divorce coach, I will support you during the storm such that when it is over and a new day has begun, the foundation for a successful new life will have already been planted.
Whenever misfortune strikes and necessity requires me to fork over any hard-earned money to a professional—such as a plumber, electrician, or other contractor—you can bet I will follow my rule of three bids. That is, I take a little time researching and calling potential professionals. I ask a lot of questions and I request a cost estimate from a minimum of three. This relatively simple rule has saved me countless mistakes, thousands of dollars, and probably a fair amount of sanity too. For example, one spring an underground sewer pipe leading from the front of my house to the street unexpectedly collapsed causing the drains in my basement to back up. I needed skilled help—and fast. I called three plumbers, per my rule, and got estimates. Each plumber had a slightly different suggestion on how to fix my problem and the costs associated with each suggestion ranged from $1,500 all the way to $15,000; one plumber said my backyard would need to be dug up. You can learn a lot from these consultations/estimates: both about your own situation and about the professional you may potentially hire.
It occurred to me, if this rule works so well with contractor-type professionals, why wouldn’t it work for lawyers? Lawyers are, after all, a type of contract professional. If misfortune strikes in your life and you need to hire skilled legal help, before you sign any contract or pay large retainer deposit, do some preliminary homework first by following these simple tips.
1. Get Three Bids
Why get three bids? There is only one reason for this: you will learn a lot. Not all professionals are the same. Not all professionals are motivated by the same things. Just as I could have easily spent 900% more on a sewer pipe replacement, so, too, can you potentially spend way more money than you probably should on legal work. In my experience, the cost of legal work varies significantly from firm to firm. Some attorneys charge their usual hourly rate just for sitting in their car, driving to and from court or mediation. Others are more scrupulous. Utah has an abundance of lawyers. Research family law lawyers in your area, ask friends and family members for names and/or recommendations, and generate a list of at least three available attorneys.
Once you have gathered some names, schedule a consultation, ask them questions, and get an estimate. Many family law attorneys in Utah give free or low-cost consultations (such as $25 to $35 for a one hour consultation). Unless you have a lot of disposable money, do not pay an attorney his or her ordinary billable rate for an initial consultation, as you could easily spend $100-$250 or more for this.
2. Ask for a Roadmap/Plan and Estimate
The attorney you hire should have a roadmap in mind of how they intend to accomplish your divorce goals. Ask him or her what that plan entails. Will you be going for temporary orders? Will you be doing a lot of discovery and gathering significant amounts of financial documentation and evidence? Should you pursue an expensive custody evaluation or try for an informal custody trial? How long will the attorney need to draft initial documents and when will the respondent be served? Who will you primarily deal with—the attorney or the paralegal? Are fees for paralegal services charged differently from the fees charged for attorney services? How far in the process will your retainer fee likely take you before a second retainer fee is needed? And what happens when the initial retainer is used?
Divorce is a journey and proper planning and strategic thinking are necessary elements for successful passage.
3. Compare Costs
Ask each attorney you interview questions about their fees:
Make a spreadsheet with all the categories you intend to compare and enter the data as you go. Once you have interviewed the last attorney, you should have fairly complete comparison points at your fingertips.
4. Ask Yourself Whose Personality is the Best Fit for You.
This last point cannot be highlighted enough. You will probably end up spending a lot of time (and money) with the lawyer you eventually hire. You will be negotiating emotional disputes and other thorny matters. Having an attorney you are comfortable with and who you feel is approachable is most important. A lawyer does, after all, represent you. Make sure whoever you hire is someone you can work with, understand, and respect.
Following these simple steps will provide you with a little education and a little confidence to move forward in your divorce. The more questions you ask and the more information you collect, the more empowered you are to make good, reliable decisions.
Navigating your Way Through Divorce Lawyers, Divorce Coaches, and 'Unbundled Legal Services'
If you’ve ever needed legal help, you know that finding the right lawyer can feel a lot like wandering alone at night in the Fire Swamp. There are plenty of R.O.U.S.s and the financial hole you may find yourself in can feel a lot like lightning sand beneath your feet. So, what should an ordinary person needing a simple divorce do? There are certainly situations where having a highly skilled attorney on retainer is necessary. Indeed, getting good legal advice in any case is critical. But for those with more straightforward or low-conflict matters, hiring a fancy, full-time, traditional attorney is probably unnecessary.
Legal services are due for momentous change in the distant or not-so-distant future. For my inaugural blog post, I thought I would cover some potentially shifting ground in the legal world with a discussion on alternative professional legal services such as divorce coaches and divorce consultants. What are they? What is the difference between a traditional attorney, a divorce consultant, and a divorce coach?
Traditional attorney services describes the type of professional legal services where a client retains the attorney to appear on the client’s behalf in a full time capacity. The attorney may make an official appearance on the record if a court case exists. In these circumstances, all communications about the case are made through counsel. The attorney will handle most of the strategy and action that occurs in a client's case.
Typically, attorneys require a hefty retainer fee paid in full at the outset. In my corner of the world, retainer fees for a typical contested divorce or custody matter range from $2,000 to $5,000, or more depending on the firm. The attorney usually applies his or her hourly rate to all "billable hours." Attorneys in Weber County average about $200/hour, however you will find variation if you ask around. Attorneys are known for applying their billable rate for things beyond court time and document preparation, such as letters, emails, telephone calls, and travel to and from court or mediation. In other words, it adds up very quickly. It makes sense that the more you use your attorney, the higher your bill will probably be.
Divorce coaches arise from a variety of backgrounds including social workers and counselors, matrimonial lawyers, or financial planners. Their main purpose is to guide and support you through the difficult transition of divorce/separation and maximize your personal and legal success.
Divorce coaches can offer empathy and care beyond what traditional lawyers are likely to offer. They mentor you. One might operate as your "thinking partner" and sounding board as you navigate the divorce path. One critical difference between a divorce coach and a divorce lawyer is that a coach does not provide legal advice. As such, they are not a replacement nor substitution for good legal help.
Divorce coaches can help you at every stage of a divorce, from pre-planning to post-divorce and can help you avoid common mistakes. It follows, then, that a coach can help you save money by helping you avoid common pitfalls.
Unbundled Legal Services
Unbundled legal services are gaining traction in the United States where attorney fees are fast becoming prohibitively expensive for most. This seems to be true even for simple Divorce and parentage matters.
A divorce consultant may not directly represent their client. Rather, people hire these legal professionals for general advice, guidance, and education on the common legal issues encountered in divorce and parentage matters. For example, one might use a divorce consultant for advice on their self-filed divorce forms and financial statements. A Divorce consultant may guide a pro se litigant through the complex and convoluted Utah divorce process. Consultants can review stipulations and agreements and offer general legal advice to the pro se litigant. Divorce consultants empower their clients through education and information. A divorce or parent consultant may also be hired for specific, limited assignments.
Divorce consultants also provide some financial relief since they aren’t charging you for their time appearing on your behalf, preparing for hearings, making phone calls, and writing letters and emails. Often divorce consultants’ hourly rates are slightly less than the hourly rate for a traditional attorney. In my case, I offer divorce and parent legal consulting services at the rate of $155/hour. My traditional attorney hourly rate is $200/hour.
Like all complicated things, divorce is a process. As a divorce attorney and divorce coach, I am well-positioned to help you avoid the many financial and emotional pitfalls and traps that are all too common in divorce. As your coach, I will empower you with education, information, and clear guidance to help you navigate the many tough choices you will face.
image above © 2017 Jeremy Poorte
Jennifer is a trusted family lawyer in Utah, having litigated hundreds of cases as a member of Neeley & Neeley Law Office, LLC in Ogden, Utah. Her passion is helping others achieve personal harmony, success, and happiness.
Image on header © 2017 Jeremy Poorte