How Much Time, Money and Misery Will Divorce Cost Me? And How Can I Keep It All to a Minimum?
People ask us, “How long does the divorce process take?” A better question to ask is “How long can the divorce process take?” This article answers that question.
Another question people also ask us is “How long does the divorce process cost?” A better question to ask is “How much can the divorce process cost?” and “How much should it cost?” This article answers those questions too.
Another question people don’t often ask, but should ask—is “How miserable can the divorce process be?” This video answers that question as well, as well as how to avoid unnecessary misery.
It’s good to save time for its own sake, but one of the best ways to save money and misery in a divorce also comes from saving time.
This is why we organize your case around moving quickly toward a fair, feasible result, instead of wasting time, money, and hope on fantasies of how much you want or “might get.” It’s not your spouse you have to convince of the righteousness of your cause, it’s your judge, and the best way to improve your odds of the judge siding with you is if you are on the side of
what’s fair and you can prove it.
So if you play your cards right (and that means preparing diligently and being realistic), the greatest victory requires little to no battle.
This is why we also follow a policy of “si vis pacem, para bellum” (if you want peace, prepare for war) because, as Sun Tzu wrote, “[v]ictory should be swift,” and “if victory is slow, men tire, morale sags.” As Sun-Tzu also wrote: “Prize victory, not a protracted campaign.”
We save you money by charging flat fees (also known as fixed fees). With the exception of time spent in mediation and preparing for and going to trial, whichever event occurs first, you will be charged a fixed fee of $500 per week (or $2,000 per month, if you prefer to pay once a month).
How do flat fees work? Let’s compare them to the gas company’s flat fee payment plan. If you choose that plan, then rather than billing you almost nothing when it’s hot but then billing triple digits when it’s cold, the gas company bills you the same amount every month. How?
The gas company estimates how much heat is going to cost you for the year (including both the hot months and cold months), then divides that cost by the number of months you will be a customer. The gas company thus averages the high cost months with the low cost months and charges you the average each month. The gas company gets paid for all the heat they provide you throughout the year, and you can more easily budget this way because you pay the same amount every month.
Obviously you can’t stop paying your fixed rate when it gets warm or if you decide not to turn on the heater. The fixed fee is based upon the average price for the whole period.
The same applies to the firm’s flat fee legal services. We estimate 1) how much time your case should take and 2) how much we would charge over that time, then we divided the cost by the time and got approximately $500 per week (or $2,000 per month).
Obviously, the amount of work we will need to do for you every week or month will not be exactly the same each week/month, but—as with the gas company—you will still be billed your fixed, flat rate because it averages out.
You can more easily budget this way. You know how much your legal bill will be each week or month, rather than having your attorney bill by the hour (handing your attorney a blank check) and surprising you with an unexpected bill each month.
This also means that you cannot stop paying or ask us to stop working on your case for a few weeks or months, and then start back up again later (flat fees don’t work that way because they can’t work that way).
You will not get a monthly bill from the firm because: 1) we do not bill by the hour; and 2) all fee information is provided in one place, at one time, in the representation agreement, for easy reference.
Both our flat fee and “Si vis pacem, para bellum” policies were designed from the ground up to save you money, to save you time, to protect your reputation, and to reduce your risks as much as reasonably and productively possible, so that we can deliver legal services so valuable to you that you gladly pay for them.
The firm cannot make any guarantees as to the outcome of your case, but we guarantee you will be satisfied with our services, or you can request your money back (we know of no other divorce and family law firm in Utah that offers this), and here is how it works: before each week’s fee is due, if you are not satisfied with the previous week’s services, you are entitled—no questions asked—to as much of a refund for that previous week as you feel is warranted, even if that means that entire week’s fee is 100% refunded.
Flat fees, efficiency, and being “aggressively reasonable” keep the misery to a minimum.
Being aggressively reasonable means that you seek what is fair and sensible in a clear, assertive, even unapologetic way. You insist on being fair and in being treated fairly, even if that means going to trial. Because being aggressively reasonable means that your position is so fair and sensible that if your spouse won’t agree to your position you are prepared to go to trial over it. Although it might seem counterintuitive to prepare for trial as a quicker way to a fair settlement, nothing prolongs your misery more than letting your case bog down in the vain hope that your spouse will somehow—despite you doing little or nothing to advance your cause—suddenly and magically see things your way.
The time frames and costs describe in this timeline set forth the general sequence of a simple and typical Utah divorce action that goes to trial when you work with us on our flat fee (or fixed fee) basis.
Unique and special circumstances, rules, or situations could (and likely would) alter the time frames or steps shown here. So this chart does not reflect what happens in all cases, but does illustrate generally what you can expect, if you’re not dragging your feet through the process.
A note on mediation and settlement
“Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.” – Sun Tzu
Utah law (Utah Code § 30-3-39) requires that a divorcing couple participate in at least one session of mediation before the case can proceed to trial, although this mediation requirement can be waived for good cause, if the director of the dispute resolution program for the courts can be persuaded to conclude that mediation should be waived. Waiver of mediation rarely occurs, so you are typically better off giving mediation a try, even if it’s only for the purpose of ensuring you’ve met the mediation requirement.
Mediation can last for several hours or over the course of several days, depending upon what the parties choose to do. If mediation results in you and your spouse reaching an agreement and settling all of the issues, then it is not uncommon for your divorce action to be completed quickly; you and your spouse prepare and sign a settlement agreement, file that with the court, and then draft and file with the court the documents needed to dispose of your case. Once the court receives proof of your settlement and all the documents that the court needs to issue your decree of divorce, it is not uncommon for everything to be turned around in just a few weeks.
You and your spouse are free to discuss and negotiate settlement of your divorce before you even file for divorce.
Even if you have filed for divorce, you and your spouse are still free to discuss and negotiate settlement literally up until the day of—and even during—the day(s) set for trial. You can negotiate until the trial court makes its decision. Obviously, the sooner you and your spouse start earnest settlement negotiations, the sooner (and most inexpensively) you will likely settle.
Virtually every sane and reasonable person would prefer to settle over litigating. When you consider that taking your case all the way to trial can set you back at least $34,000 (and that’s on the cheap side, frankly), making an “unfair” settlement may not be such a bad idea if it means that the “cost” of settlement left you better off economically in the long-term than what it would cost to go to trial where success is not guaranteed.
Still, you must bear this crucial fact in mind: your chances of saving all kinds of time and heartache by settling with your spouse are as good as how well you and your spouse get along. And if you couldn’t get alone well enough to make a success of your marriage, it’s not likely you’ll get along well enough to settle your divorce case quickly and inexpensively either. Successful marriages require sacrifice and compromise by both parties, and so do successful divorce settlements. Building your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across means you have to work on building that bridge, and you have to invest some of your gold. If you agree to an unfair settlement just to avoid litigation then you have your reward: you certainly avoided litigation by settling. But if your spouse doesn’t want to settle or negotiate in good faith, then you can’t have it both ways.
If you and your spouse do not agree upon the terms of your divorce, and one or both of you feels it necessary to go to trial and have the judge decide some or all of the issues in your divorce action, then this is how the process of preparing for and going to trial in your divorce case progresses:
Meet with your attorney, provide information needed to prepare your pleadings.
Prepare and file your complaint for divorce.
Service of process. Serve opposing party with a summons and a copy of complaint for divorce. Service of process usually takes about a week but can be longer if the opposing party evades service. You must serve the summons within 120 days of filing the complaint or your case can be dismissed.
Weeks 2 through 5:
Within 21 days of being served the summons and a copy of the complaint (30 days, if you serve the opposing party outside the state of Utah), the opposing party must respond to your complaint after being served with the summons and a copy of the complaint. Usually this response takes the form of what is known as an “answer” to the divorce complaint or, in most cases an answer and counterclaim. If the opposing party files a counterclaim against you, you have to respond within 21 days of being served with the counterclaim.
Week 3 $500
Week 4 $500
If a party fails to respond to a complaint for divorce (or to a counterclaim) within 21 days of being served (or within 30 days, if the opposing party was served outside the state of Utah), the opposing party is known as being “in default,” which means that the opposing party has failed to respond to your complaint for divorce within the time permitted, which allows you to seek judgment against the opposing party for failure to respond and participate in the action. This rarely happens, and even if you apply for default judgment and obtain it, if the opposing party moves to have your default judgment set aside in a timely manner, so that the case can be heard and decided on the merits rather than by forfeit, courts will often set aside the default on that basis. Still, don’t let that give you the idea that you can ignore court deadlines.
Week 6 through 8:
Prepare your Financial Declaration and Initial Disclosures and serve them upon the opposing party. The opposing party has 42 days after filing of the first answer to the complaint, or 28 days after the opposing party’s initial appearance in the action, which ever period is later.
Week 7 $500
Week 8 $500
This starts the discovery period.
Discovery is the process by which the parties through the rules of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from each other and from other witnesses or other sources. Discovery tools include interrogatories, request for admissions, requests for production of documents, depositions, mental health examinations, custody evaluations, vocational assessments, and subpoenas, to name some.
Under the rules of civil procedure this period is 180 days long, unless the court modifies the time period for discovery. Rarely, if ever, is discovery shortened, although it can be. And frequently discovery is extended beyond the 180-day period.
You understand that the opposing party and/or opposing counsel may engage in activities that were not planned for, that were unforeseen, and/or that are beyond the firm’s control and that may require further time and charges not contemplated by this fixed fee agreement. So any additional fees for any additional and/or unanticipated work that you may need or want done over and above what the firm intended and anticipated the weekly $500 fixed fee to cover will be agreed upon between you and the firm and reduced to writing before any such additional work is performed and charged.
Expenses. All expenses the firm may incur or advance in connection with providing legal services will be billed to you separately. All variable expenses will be billed according to the actual amount of the expense. Examples of variable expenses include, but are not limited to, filing fees, recording fees, deposition costs, expert witness fees, investigator fees, postage, photocopying, parking, etc.
Weeks 9 – 35
At this point, the case should be ready to certify as ready to schedule for trial. If so, either party can file with the court a certificate of readiness for trial, and then ask the court to schedule a date for the judge and the parties to meet to preparations for the trial.
There is nothing to prevent you and your spouse from discussing settlement and trying to negotiate a settlement during this period of time. Indeed, settlement negotiations typically are ongoing during the discovery period.
If the case is ready to certify as ready for trial or is actually certified as ready for trial by the opposing party, the trial preparation fee (in addition to your weekly fixed fee, any other expenses, expert witness fees, equipment fees, fees charged by third parties, and other litigation expenses) is $5,500, which is due in the month the firm notifies you that it is ready to certify the case as ready for trial or the month in which the case is certified by the opposing party as ready for trial, whichever comes first.
Week 43 to 47:
Trial is usually set about 3 months, give or take, after the pretrial scheduling conference.
Trial is held. Trials usually last 2 to 5 days, although they can take longer, depending upon how many issues there are to try and how complex the issues are.
Remember that fees expert witnesses charge to prepare for and to test testify at trial are costs you cover.
$2,000 per day of trial; $1,000 per half day of trial.
Subtotal (based upon a 3-day trial): $31,500
Week 49 to 53 (or 57):
After the trial has been completed, the judge can take up to 60 days to decide the case, unless the judge obtains permission from the presiding judge of the court to take even more time to render a decision. Usually the court reaches a decision within several weeks, instead of 60 days, however.
No charges are incurred during this period, unless any new or unanticipated work is needed and performed for you.
Weeks 54 – 57:
After the judge decides the case, the judge will usually direct one of the parties to prepare a proposed draft of the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and to prepare a proposed draft of the Decree of Divorce.
The party who the judge has the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and the proposed Decree of Divorce is required to send the opposing party the drafts for review. If the opposing party finds anything in the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and/or the proposed Decree of Divorce that does not comport with the trial judges decisions, the opposing party can file an objection to the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and/or to the proposed Decree of Divorce, and the opposing party has seven days in which to do so.
Weeks 54 – 57
If the opposing party files an objection to the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and/or the proposed Decree of Divorce, the other party can respond to that objection within seven days. At that point the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and the proposed Decree of Divorce are submitted to the judge for the judge to decide what the ultimate form of the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and of the Decree of Divorce will take.
No charges are incurred during this period, unless any new work is needed and performed for you.
Assuming that the court gets back to you within a week or two, the court will then issue the final Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and final Decree of Divorce.
Total: about $34,000, not including litigation costs
If either party or both parties feel that the judge’s decision does not comply with the laws governing divorce, then either party or both parties may appeal the judge’s decision by filing a notice of appeal with the Utah Court of Appeals, which notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the date of the entry of the Decree of Divorce.
If you want to file an appeal (and if we agree you should), we are happy to help you through the appeals process, which would be the subject of a new contractual arrangement.