Posted by Michelle May O’Neil on July 11, 2011

Accept that you may not have the control you would like to have over the legal costs. If your spouse is unwilling to negotiate a settlement and wants to drag matters over a period of time or through to trial, the legal costs will escalate. Sometimes one or both spouses start out not fully comprehending the stress and high costs that are involved in fighting it out in the litigation process. Months later they may come to the realization that it is better to work out a settlement to end the “emotional and financial bleed” and get on with their lives. Sometimes one or both spouses are so angry that they will do everything possible to drag matters out just to have their “day in court.” Then they realize only too late that putting their lives in the hands of the court is anything but empowering. The court may make decisions that neither of them desires.

Taking the things that you cannot control into account, you can do some things to make your time with your lawyer more cost effective and control your legal costs to some extent.

  • Gather, photocopy, and organize all of your personal and family financial documents and records. This includes your personal income tax returns and any and every document you can find that relates to your family finances, such as cancelled checks, records of investments, loan agreements, bank account statements, insurance policies, real estate documents, RRSPs, and the like. If you have a marriage agreement, a domestic contract, or any other agreement, your lawyer will also require these documents.
  • Calculate all of your current overheads. If you haven’t been keeping records of your expenses before, start writing down everything that you spend money on-groceries, gas, utilities, child care, your children’s haircuts, your children’s extra-curricular activities, your children’s medications. Keep a record of everything that you spend to support yourself and your children on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
  • If you have friends who have been through this process and can give you practical advice, listen and consider their input. Although each situation is unique, learning from the experiences of others can help you focus on the specific matters that you will need to discuss with your lawyer.
  • Plan your telephone and face to face meetings with your lawyer. Write down your questions before you talk or meet. When your lawyer gives you advice, take notes so that you have the information you need to make the best decisions for you and your children.
  • If your lawyer calls you but your children are in the room, or for some other reason you do not feel you can concentrate on the matters at hand, ask for a time that would be convenient for you to return the call. Call back when you are feeling calm and prepared and assured of privacy.
  • Do not use your lawyer’s billable time to talk about your emotional situation.
  • Do not have your lawyer do all the legwork if there are matters you can handle.

Make the calls, pick up the documents, and do whatever you can to gather any information or documents that your lawyer requires. But of course you also need to consider the trade-off of the cost of your time versus the cost of your lawyer or his or her assistants doing this work.

  • Ask your lawyer directly if there is anything that you can personally do to keep the costs down.

In matters of property division, you may have to provide records to determine any worth that is separate from the family property or you may have had prior to the marriage. If you had a marriage contract, these matters may be dealt with there. If not, you will need to provide the appropriate documentation. If you owned property or had investments such as an RRSP prior to your marriage, do you have valuations as at the date of the marriage? If you do not have the records to substantiate property or investments you believe should not be considered in the division of the matrimonial property, can your financial advisor, present or former employer or banker provide information that would substantiate your claim? There are professionals who do forensic valuations of property but these services will add costs to the bottom line of your separation or divorce.




This article has been edited and excerpted from the book To Have and To Hold with permission by McGraw-Hill Ryerson,Copyright ©2010 by Kathleen Aldridge and Nancy Jane Bullis.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW for multiple years. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.