Cheaper Than A New Body Part?

A year ago my husband and I separated. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, we’ve managed to do so not only amicably, but actually remain close friends interested in each other’s welfare and happiness as we’ve each ridden the emotional (and practical) waves that come with the end of a marriage.

We still hang out often on weekends so he can spend time with all of us (and to give me a break from the dogs, who regularly look for him in the house). Most of his stuff is still stored in my house/garage, since he’s living with a buddy on the other side of town and doesn’t have room yet to take more than essentials. His fun car and tools are here. I was thrilled for him when he started dating someone, and listened as a friend when they eventually broke up.

This is possible, this friendly divorce idea in which both parties remember that it’s not about stuff, or money, or what hurts have been caused, but about the well being of a person you loved enough to marry. So the marriage itself didn’t work – so what? We were friends before we were spouses: there’s no good reason to let the friendship go, too. I know it’s weird: I’ve talked about it a little on this blog. We’re both warned all the time by well-meaning people that it’s not going to work, and one of us will screw the other over. I don’t know how he handles it, but I generally say something noncommittal like “thanks but you don’t know us”, and change the subject before I get irritated.

Over the last six months I’ve gone to consultations with three different lawyers about doing the legal papers for divorce. This is not a surprise to my ex: we have already talked about everything we own jointly and how we’ll handle splitting things up. In fact, that’s all been settled for nearly a year, and he reminded me after 1/1 that we should get the filing done so it’s not hanging out there like poor forgotten Johnny Tyler in Tombstone.

Unsurprisingly, lawyers are also unprepared for our amicable split. Actual conversation with the first one I tried (after telling him very clearly we ONLY need someone to check the paperwork and do the court filings in the county):

  • Have you considered x,y,z items?
    • Legit question, and yup we had considered all of them.
  • Are you SURE you want to let him have a,b,c items?
    • Um, yes, I already said so.
  • You know, you could get everything–
    • I stopped him cold right there – I don’t WANT everything: I want a split we consider fair between us (you know, the two people who actually own the stuff in question), which we’ve ALREADY DETERMINED.
  • Why are you taking x,y,z debts?
  • Well, dear (large sigh with obvious “poor you, dumbass” body language), you could do better here for yourself by fighting for x,y,z.
    • At this point, I’ve already decided you’ll not be my lawyer, since you’re not listening and the items in question are REALLY not worth any further argument. We don’t own huge amounts of stock/planes/mansions/etc. We don’t have kids to fight over. We have a house, a couple cars, and some minor stuff to split up. It’s DONE.
  • I suppose if you’re really going to do it this way and not fight for his truck as well, filing the paperwork all together would be $X.
    • Ok, that’s not so bad.  
  • I require a $X,XXX retainer, paid in full before I do anything. Here’s a worksheet and the agreement, you have 30 days to decide to retain me or not.
    • Um, why is the retainer 4 times your anticipated cost of filing paperwork?
  • Oh the retainer is standard regardless of the work. I return any unused funds 30 days after everything is final.
    • Ah, so you take as much of my money as possible and make interest off of it, hoping to talk me into fighting and delaying this process so you make MORE, then hold my refunded balance hostage for another month?
Sadly, other than the condescending attitude (for the record, the other two people I spoke with neither condescended nor argued about our decisions) the super-high retainer seems common so far. Sigh.

And let me be clear: I think lawyers are absolutely entitled to make money at their jobs. Good money. I have no problem with that. I don’t even have a problem with providing a retainer – I’m sure it’s easier than invoicing every time fees are required.

But, potential lawyer, if you specifically tell me the paperwork itself and expected filing fees plus your hourly rate to be a total of thousand dollars, asking me for five thousand (of which you get to make extra money for however long the process takes plus your standard return-funds check process) is really just taking additional interest income from MY bank account. Which makes me wonder if you’ll come up with reasons to delay, and thus we’d be starting our relationship on a distrustful foot.

Nope. I get that you’re not going to make a bazillion off my divorce, and I’m not sorry for it, but come on. There has to be a better way.

One thought on “Cheaper Than A New Body Part?

  1. I ran into this problem (The X cost but XXXX retainer) before with a different matter. Luckily I was able to find a family law attorney who had a policy in simple cases just to ask for the estimated amount up front. I hope you find one too, and agree it's ridiculous.


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