Many divorces have some level of conflict. Many others go smoothly with minimal emotional and financial damage to parties and the children. Then there are the high conflict divorces. These are generally devastating both emotionally and financially to the parties. They are rarely necessary and should be avoided if at all possible.
There are numerous behaviors that can send a divorce toward high levels of conflict and consequent high attorney fees and costs. The following list is not exhaustive but reflects the most common indicators and behaviors of high conflict divorce. To send a divorce spiraling into conflict, one or both parties:
- Can begin the divorce process by avoiding service of process.
- Can refuse to answer, forcing a motion and hearing on default.
- Can fight the interim division of income and expense.
- Can refuse to provide discovery or make illegal, nonstandard or overly burdensome discovery requests.
- Can file groundless motions.
- Can refuse to cooperate and compromise on the division of property and debt.
- Can refuse to mediate in good faith once the case is sent to settlement facilitation by the court, as every case is.
- Can force a trial even though the outcome will be harmful to both parties.
- Can fight over the smallest and most trivial items as a way of settling emotional scores.
- Finally, after all that, can refuse to abide by the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) or court judgment by; Refusing to cooperate in preparation of QDRO‘s. Refusing to cooperate in transfer of assets. Refusing to sell the home as ordered. Refusing to refinance the home or other debt as ordered. Refusing to provide title documents as ordered and required by law to transfer property. Refusing to pay debt as allocated. Or finally, coming up with new and creative ways to avoid obligations under the MSA or court judgment.
Now for the bad news. Any one of these can add enormous costs to the parties in terms of attorney fees. Each one could require a hearing which can add significantly to the costs of the divorce due to preparation time, travel time to court, waiting for the hearing to begin, drafting the order after the hearing and of course, returning to the judge for rulings on the content of the order because one of the attorneys or parties does not agree with the order as written, does not agree that the order as written reflects the court‘s ruling or just plain wants to be difficult. In short, any one of these issues can add hours upon hours of attorney time with corresponding attorney fees.
Now for the really bad news. I did not mention domestic violence, child custody, or child support. These issues can each increase the costs of a divorce or family law matter exponentially. They each are deserving of a discussion of their own.
In short, the costs of a divorce are dictated by the amount of attorney time expended. The amount of attorney time is dictated by the behavior of the parties. Either or both parties can drive up the costs of a divorce. Attorneys have limited control over the variables that will drive up attorney time. The best a lawyer can do is to try to work efficiently while advising the client of the risks of rising costs associated with certain behavior. Unfortunately, even the most efficient attorneys cannot control the other side. Only the other attorney can control that side of the equation and that is entirely different topic for discussion.