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8 Things a Divorce Attorney Won't Tell You

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I was married once, and while it didn’t kill me, it did require stitches. When I got married many years ago, my former spouse got half my assets. When we got divorced, she got the other half. A divorce is like an amputation: You survive it, but there’s less of you.

The sad truth is that more than one in two marriages will end in divorce. Almost three out of four second (or third) marriages will not survive in today’s world. And when the time comes for the dissolution of a holy union, divorce is a game played by lawyers where everything human is reduced to cash.

In Chinese culture, the number eight is considered a “lucky” number because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for building wealth. Divorce should be considered the exact opposite of wealth building. Following are the eight things a divorce attorney won’t likely tell when you are going into the dissolution battle:

1. The cost will be higher than the original advertised rate or your initial retainer. The recession has caused the divorce rate to skyrocket. Your client can expect to pay between $15,000 and $30,000 before they’re finally paroled from their civil sentence. There is no such thing as a “discount divorce” or a cheap divorce attorney.

2. Lack of financial savvy will cost you. You, the advisor, can assist with understanding the client’s investments and assets. Forensic analysis of bank statements, retirement plans and investment accounts will be likely.

3. Lawyers will want you to settle. Divorce attorneys really do not want to “fight” their peers or argue with judges. Most financial settlement boundaries are pretty much cut and dried. If your client persists in arguing with the soon-to-be ex-spouse, he or she will pony up legal fees with little to show for the added expense.

4. Income will plummet during and after the process. Money (or the lack of it) is the leading cause of divorce. The added distraction of the divorce reduces productivity and income. Your client can count on potentially having to tap into IRAs or retirement accounts to stay afloat while the divorce is pending. Living expenses will skyrocket during this time, too; paying for two households will bring this reality into focus quickly.

5. Poverty post-divorce is not unlikely. Households with children who remain unmarried for at least six years will realize a 40–45 percent average decline in family income (according to the National Bureau of Economic Research), and divorced mothers are three times more likely than married mothers to end up literally in poverty (according to 2011 study by the Family Research Council).

6. Divorce is way worse than you’ll ever imagine. Forget about the financial demise brought on with divorce; that pales in comparison with the emotional toll. Twenty-eight percent of people age 40 and up experience depression following their divorce, while 63 percent of women and 44 percent of men have high levels of stress (according to an AARP study). And lawyers are not the ideal person to listen to clients lament or cry about it. They aren’t typically trained to deal with venting, but they will charge you by the minute if you persist.

7. You want me to do what? Many divorce attorneys have yet to recover their pre-recession support staff, so they’re handling many of the office duties themselves. Your client may wait for days to get a call back. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ranks of the legal profession has diminished by 4 percent from 2007–2011.

8. Two attorneys aren’t really necessary. There’s a correlation between having an attorney and having a long legal battle. Divorces in which both parties have a lawyer take nearly four months longer than when both don’t have legal counsel, according to a 2010 study by Marquette University Law School. If the situation doesn’t include complicating factors, such as a self-employment, it’s a good idea to consider alternatives such as “collaborative” divorce with mediators or trained counselors, and use just one attorney to represent both parties. The National Conflict Resolution Center estimates that divorce mediation costs between $2,000 and $5,000.

Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted.

For more from Michael Ham, see:

Is Social Security Biased Against Men?

401(k) for Dummies: Tick Tock Time Bomb

Tail Wagging the Dog: Annuity Carriers Stealing Your Clients?


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