Recently, there has been an upswell of marketing activity by firms that promise “less expensive,” “collaborative,” and even “friendly” divorces. Many are coming into Oregon from out of state. One California company claims to have a tech platform that can “make every divorce amicable.” This is both misleading and unrealistic.
No two divorces are alike; each family comes into our office with a different history and set of circumstances. Sure, some of the major steps will be the same from case to case. You will have to file a petition. You will in all likelihood need to assess your assets. If you have children, you will almost certainly need to calculate and agree upon child support.
What can’t be calculated by rigid, distant computer consultations are the human and unpredictable factors: what happens if a spouse loses his job during the proceedings? What if a child refuses to see a parent during her scheduled time? What if you’re agreeing to things that are not in your best interest in the long run—are you certain the attorney managing your case as one of dozens of referrals that have come to her online has the time to counsel you well? Consider: why would a successful and experienced attorney agree to rates that are only half of what they would usually charge? And without a doubt, no technology can guarantee that you and your spouse will get along through the entire emotional process.
In a further effort to cut costs, many Oregon firms promote a “collaborative” approach using only one attorney for both parties. Some of these attorneys are highly respected in their field. However, there are risks to signing up for some of these firms or clinics.
First, they are often marketed with deceptive claims, and after you are taken in you find out that the cost is substantially higher than you thought. As noted above, life is unpredictable, especially during times of high stress. Second, there can be serious ethical “conflict of interest” issues when one attorney or firm attempts to represent both sides in a divorce proceeding. Often, there is no fully equitable way to divide the assets which have woven so broadly into our lives. If the attorney is trying to make everyone happy, who is going to make the hard decisions? Who is going to advocate for your best interest when it might conflict with your spouse’s?
Bottom line: look carefully at the background and qualifications of the people you will actually be working with. Are they attorneys or paralegals? What family law experience do they have? I recently researched a firm advertising low-cost family law services and learned that all three attorneys had just recently graduated from law school. New attorneys can offer creative solutions, but they often just don’t have the experience and depth of knowledge to anticipate all the subtleties.
It’s understandable that people who are going through the challenge of a divorce would look for ways to reduce costs. Legal processes can be expensive and sometimes intimidating. However, that shouldn’t mean you agree to cut corners when so much is at stake. It’s actually the most experienced attorneys who best understand where your focus should be and how to avoid the traps that can run up costs. Despite aggressive marketing in our field, and simply pays to be careful in choosing who takes care of you and your case.