Monday, April 20, 2009

Baby step

Took one Friday. Now I wonder how long I'll hang out here.

"It's just preliminary" I kept telling myself. "This is just a consultation."

I told Gary I was going, and I told him the appointment time. I told him it was recommended that we come in together, but if he wished he could go on his own another time. He said he thought this was something he should attend with me. I told him that he needed to find a time in his schedule that would work for him and let me know so I could reschedule.

He did not, so I kept the appointment by myself on Friday.

I wonder how many people sit outside the door of a legal office, reflecting that they'd never imagined themselves walking through that door. I walked inside to a comfortable setting with shelves of books about low-conflict divorce, single parenting.

The lawyer I met with is an ex-litigator. He said he'd had his fill of court-mediated divorce and preferred this model instead. "This model" has a name called 'collaborative divorce' and it exists to help couples avoid going to court. Within the collaborative divorce model are 3 sub-models: kitchen table, mediation, attorney collaboration.

In 'kitchen table', the couple is handed paperwork, they come to their agreements on their own, fill out the forms and the firm shepherds the filing through the legal system. $3000.

Three thousand dollars? And that's the budget option? Man, filling out the legal forms and filing must be a really onerous task to make it worth paying someone $3,000 to do it for you.

So how much are the other two models?

The second model is where the couple negotiates through a mediator. The mediator is a neutral party and helps facilitate the conversation with the goal of "each person finding their own point of fairness" and getting those points together where they can be agreed upon.

He said that going the mediation route often ends up costing about as much as the collaborative model which is where each couple has legal representation and so there are four people in the room working out the terms. He gave a cost estimate of between $7 and $15,000.

Mediation ends up costing as much as legal representation because working through a mediator tends to be a very slow process.

But litigation can cost somewhere in the range of $30K and upward.

Who can afford to get a divorce? Legal separation costs the same; it can be converted to a divorce if done within 2 years after the separation; otherwise the process and expense are repeated.

As I mulled over all this later, it occurred to me that the expenses are incurred by the lawyers' hourly rate. Dave's rate is $275, and I'm not sure if it's the same if he's acting as mediator, or if he's acting as my (or Gary's) attorney. So the costs are proportional to the extent that a couple can stay focused on business and not meander into fighting and blaming--on attorney-paid time.

So, theoretically, in a perfect world, a couple could come to their agreements on their own, get and fill in and file the papers themselves, and it will only cost the $381 filing fee? So: $381 or $15,000+--your choice!

I walked away from the meeting with the contours and shape of the process a little less hazy. I also walked away with a slim but dense notebook with the paperwork needed for the kitchen table divorce. If nothing else that will help me see more clearly the minutiae of what needs to be settled between us.

Our 17th anniversary was Saturday.


Mrs. Spit said...

That took courage.

Aunt Becky said...

I've been in the "I can't believe I'm about to do..." before, and I can tell you that you are very courageous. I wish I had anything better to tell you.

Lori said...

I shouldn't be, but I am shocked at the costs.

I know it took a lot for you to put one foot in front of the other.

Proud of you.

Douglas W said...

It is so difficult. I know. I have been there. And I still wonder whether there was another way. I wrote about it in my Short Stories.

excavator said...

Well, thank you! That was very kind and nice to receive. It also inspired some extended thinking about courage, and maybe will become a post someday.