I was recently asked by a high net worth client how they could save legal fees during their proceeding. I understood his concern as the matter is complicated and his wife had very little knowledge of family finances. Accordingly. it would be up to her lawyer to verify assets and advise the client. Half the cost of a divorce is the trial if the matter is not settled. One of the best ways to save money in a divorce proceeding is to avoid the trial and make a reasonable settlement. The other half of the cost of a divorce is pretrial preparation. Most of the pretrial action in a divorce deals with issues of child custody, interim support, and discovery. In this case, since the wife knew nothing about finances until discovery was exchanged, there could be no settlement. There were kids involved and my client was an active parent who wanted to stay involved. His wife opposed this may be out of anger or fear or desire to control the one thing that she did control during the marriage. My client liked bullet points and so I e-mailed him the following bullet points which have been sanitized to protect confidentiality:
1) Put together a series of binders with all your bank and brokerage records over the last five years.
2) Do the same for the last five years of credit card statements.
3) Pull out your employment contract including any amendments as well as any company generated computation of your bonus including deferred compensation and stock awards
4) Hire an accountant ( I have a recommendation ) to compute lifestyle over the last few years who will also compute the probable investment return on your spouse’s property award.
5) Assemble 5 years of statements for your 401K, IRA, stock awards, and deferred compensation.
6) Collect all insurance policies including life and contents. I know you have that train collection so the insurance on that is important as is the insurance on your wife’s jewelry.
7) Write a history of the marriage including all the detail you can think of deal with how you lived and worked; what involvement you had with the kids and what help your wife was to you and your success.
8) Give me a copy of your will the deeds to your home and the shore home. I know when you bought the shore home you obtained a mortgage so give me a copy of your financial statement as filed with the bank or if it was oral get a transcript from your banker.
9) Give me all the texts and e-mails between you and your wife. It will give me a good insight Into how you interact. The dynamics of a Divorce frequently follow the dynamics of the marriage. Also, there may be some statements made by her or you that could be relevant.
10) Think about it and give me a list in order of importance of what you think your wife needs.
11) Assemble the last five years of federal and state tax returns.
A big part of the cost of litigation is satisfying the other side that you have nothing to hide. Even if you do have something to hide with modern discovery techniques hiding stuff is not easy and an ethical lawyer will not help you do it. So the best solution is to lay your documents on the table and trust your lawyer to argue the law and the facts. Substantial time pre–trial and pre–settlement is spent satisfying the other side that they got it all. Making them confidant they do save time and money. Once the other side is ready there are various forms of dispute resolution we can discuss including mediation and arbitration. I personally like mediation with an agreement that the mediator can also arbitrate. Mediation is where a third party makes suggestions as to how to settle. An arbitrator acts like a judge and resolves the case. If the same individual mediates and arbitrates, you save money as it takes time and cost money to educate the decision-maker. My advice to this new client is sound and time-proven. When you give the other side all your documents quickly you build trust and tend to settle cases. Of course, if there are concerns of confidentiality and your lawyer may need to obtain a Protective Order before documents are exchanged, which should not be a problem with an experienced lawyer but may be costly with the less knowledgeable.