5 Ways to Settle Your Divorce and Save a Ton of Money

Episode 3

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Disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice or a consultation with a lawyer.

1. The Inside Track – Parenting Conference vs. Custody Evaluation

Sometimes during hotly contested custody (legal decision-making) proceedings, one party asks the court to order a custody evaluation to be done. In our experience, a typical custody evaluation costs no less than $4,000 and can run upwards of $20,000. So BEFORE you say “yes” to that custody evaluation, consider a less expensive option: the parenting conference.

A parenting conference is ordered by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. As part of his or her responsibilities, the person conducting the parenting conference will interview the parties, possibly interview the children, review relevant documents, review criminal records, etc. Once the parenting conference provider has completed his or her “investigation,” s/he will provide a written report and recommendations to the assigned family court judge.

In many cases, a parenting conference report will accomplish the same objectives as a custody evaluation, but at a much lower cost. Get this — as of the date of this post, the cost for a parenting conference is $300. Both a custody evaluation and a parenting conference do the same thing – give the judge information needed to make a ruling on legal decision-making.

Depending on your case, you might consider asking for a parenting conference instead of a full blown custody evaluation. For cases involving complex issues (for example, sex abuse allegations), it might be better to have something that is more in depth like a custody evaluation.

Consult with a lawyer to find out what option is best for you.

2. 5 Ways to Settle Your Divorce and Save a Ton of Money

Tracy has seen divorce cases run $40,000 or more. She believes there is a better way of doing things: reaching compromise. Today, she gives 5 Ways to Settle Your Divorce and Save a Ton of Money.

Method 1: Offers/counter-offers

Tracy has settled cases by simply exchanging letters back and forth with the other party/attorney with offers/counter-offers. She finds it rare to settle a case after the first letter– sometimes it takes more than one letter.

Even reaching partial agreements on some issues benefits parties financially. This means that they do not have to go to trial on every issue. By settling even a few issues, the trial process is streamlined and will only include those issues in dispute.

If parties reach agreements on all issues, then getting the divorce finalized is easy. It is simply a matter of one of the attorneys drafting the final divorce documents (Consent Decree of Dissolution and Property Settlement Agreement), having the parties review/sign the documents, then submitting the documents to the judge. In these cases, the divorce can be finalized within a short period of time after paperwork is given to the judge for his or her approval.

Keep in mind that once a person files for divorce, there is a 60 day waiting period in Arizona before the divorce can be finalized. What this means is that the divorce cannot be finished sooner than 60 days from the date the respondent was served with (given notice) of the lawsuit.

Method 2: Informal Settlement Conference

Some settlement conferences can be as easy as the two attorneys or parties sitting down together in a room and trying to hammer out all the unresolved issues. In some situations, an entire case can be settled in an afternoon sit down session. These types of settlement conferences are most appropriate if the parties are civil to one another. An informal settlement conference is not appropriate if there is a history of domestic violence in the relationship or if the relationship is high-conflict.

As in Method 1 above, if the parties reach a full agreement, final settlement documents can be prepared and submitted to the judge for his or her review and approval.

Method 3: Mediation

A. Private Mediation

In this type of mediation, you have to pay for a private mediator’s time. One of the benefits of hiring a private mediator is that it is easier to get scheduled due to the increased flexibility of the mediator’s schedule. Either the parties can attend alone or they can attend with their attorneys if they wish. (Hernandez Family Law keeps a list of recommended mediators.)

B. Court-Ordered Mediation

With this type of mediation, the parties can attend a session with Maricopa County Conciliation Services for a very low cost and be assisted by a mediator. Court-ordered mediation is designed only for legal decision-making (custody) and parenting time issues. It is not designed for financial issues.

During any type of mediation, it is important to be flexible and consider options that are creative. If you are not willing to budge, you will end up in trial. It is extremely rare for people to be 100% happy with the results imposed upon them by the court after trial.

Method 4: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Settlement Conference

These are also court ordered conferences. The parties attend with their attorneys. Tracy has had great success with ADR sessions. The cost of the session is free, although a person will have to pay his/her attorney’s hourly rate (if s/he has an attorney). A con to this type of conference is that there is a limited amount of time set aside to resolve the outstanding issues.

These sessions are conducted by judge pro tem who is usually a family law attorney who has been practicing for no less than 5 years in the state of Arizona. The judge has to go through an application process and be approved to act in this capacity. Because of this judge’s experience in the area of family law, s/he is often in a place to provide valuable information on the various positions you maintain in your case.

Method 5: Divorce Only

This is an appropriate method when two parties have worked out all the details of their case between them. They only use a lawyer to draft the forms and make everything “neat and pretty.” Generally speaking, these types of divorces might take only 2-3 hours of an attorney’s time (if the initial divorce documents have already been filed).

Also–keep in mind that court fees are on top of the document preparation costs in these cases. (Court fees are currently in the range of $300 for the petitioner and $300 for the respondent in Maricopa County Superior Court.)

You can reach Tracy Augustin at hernandezfirm.com, 602-230-2333 or [email protected].

3. Thoughts from the Life Coach – Grief

Today, Hernandez Family Law life coach James Hoffmaster shares his thoughts on grief, followed by Wendy’s musings on the topic.

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