How do I come up with money for attorney’s fees?
This is a little longer than my usual blog article, but it’s important. So sit down and pay attention, please.
No matter which side of a separation or divorce you are on, the financial strains can be intimidating. You may have gone from a two income family to a one income family. You’re now in two separate dwellings, meaning total expenses are higher and each must be borne by one income. (Yes I know you may be paying support, but that is determined by the court based on employment history among other things. And no one receiving support payments is getting rich because of it, no matter how much you want to imagine so.) Each party has to come up with the money for their own legal representation, and it is equally difficult in most cases.
So how do you pay a retainer and still keep your head above water? Let me just say right up front that I will NEVER tell anybody to go into debt, so that option is simply off the table. It’s completely antithetical to what I am all about. But what else can you do? Plenty.
First off, you MUST have a budget. You must.
In my years of coaching, I have invariably found that people who say “I can’t afford it”, whatever IT is, have no household budget. Then they find out they actually CAN afford it after they start doing a budget. And by budget, I mean written down (or in a computer of some type), with the upcoming month’s income and expenses planned out before the month begins. You total up all the take-home pay and other money you expect to get in the upcoming month. Write that number at the top of the page. Then you spend every dollar of that income down the page in all the categories of life that apply to you. All of it, till there is zero left. And then you actually DO what you planned to do with the money in that budget.
And here’s a hint….you budget the most important things first. So what are the most important things?
Well, first is food. That means basic groceries, not eating out. Eating out is a luxury. Next is shelter, meaning rent or mortgage, and lights, heat and water. All other utilities are luxuries. Then comes transportation, so you can get to work where you make the money. So that means gasoline, insurance, repairs, and your car payment if you have one. Clothing is next, but only for rapidly growing children. We adults have enough. Really we do. It’s a luxury.
The above (food, shelter, transportation and clothing) are your “four walls”….the necessities of life. Without those you can’t do anything else in life. So what comes next after those? Depends on your priorities. If you are fighting for your kids’ custody, then your attorney’s retainer is probably next on your list, right? How important is it? Well you have to eat, sleep and earn money to survive (your 4 walls), but after that it’s pretty dang important.
So, if you are having trouble coming up with attorney fees, cut out all luxuries. Yes I said clothing for adults is a luxury. So are home internet service, cable TV, gym memberships, vacations, hobbies, alcohol, pets, movies, gifts, haircuts, cosmetics…. Wow…that’s pretty radical!! Well, how important is it to get custody of your kids? If you had to come up with $5000 to save your child’s actual life, could you do it? I bet you could. It just needs to be a priority.
Where do debt payments come into play in your budget? Well, ordinarily I tell people they come right after the four walls. In other words, the necessities come first, and then come the obligations, which is what debt payments are. You gotta pay your rent or mortgage, and your car payment, or you lose your place to live and your way to go make money. But if we’re talking about a DIRE emergency of coming up with a retainer immediately to fight for custody, then even your credit card payments could be put on hold or reduced below minimum for a short time while you pile up cash to pay an attorney. I’m not saying to just quit paying all your bills as a way of life, but if you absolutely have to, you could do that as a last resort to save up in a big hurry, then get caught up again in a month or two.
Ok if you’ve now got the right attitude about prioritizing this, what else can you do besides cut expenses to the bone?
Well, there are only two sides to the equation….income and outgo. Increase the income and decrease the outgo. I told you how to decrease the outgo. Increase the income by selling so much stuff the cat is hiding under the bed. Have a garage sale every week until you’re eating off a card table. Get 3 part time jobs. By the way, find jobs that pay tips and be the best, smiliest person at that job that anyone’s ever seen.
I have assumed you have no money in savings or non-retirement investments, or you would have already tapped into those. When it comes to retirement savings, just be aware that if you cash any of those out, you will be hit with a 10% penalty in addition to your tax rate, meaning you would lose somewhere between 25 and 40% of the money. Normally a desperate move like that is reserved for avoiding bankruptcy or foreclosure. I suppose custody of your kids ranks right up there with those though, if you have no other choices. But I’d work 4 jobs and have zero life, like I describe above, before I’d consider doing this.
I’ve written before about the difficulty of remaining in a house after a divorce, when it took two incomes to afford it during the marriage. If your mortgage payment is more than 25% of your take-home pay, you definitely need to consider downsizing. Maybe even if it isn’t. This isn’t a quick fix for quick money, but it may still be necessary.
And finally, let’s just talk a bit about making sure you get the most bang for your buck from your attorney. I’ve seen enough horror stories to know that not all attorneys are created equal. A higher hourly rate or retainer does NOT mean you’ve got a better attorney. Shop around and ask rates right up front. Get multiple referrals and interview multiple attorneys before you pick one. You want a real bulldog. It might be someone even YOU don’t like much. Talk to some of the social service folks who counsel or advocate on behalf of parents with the court system. They know who the effective attorneys are and the ones to avoid as well. And there is more risk than you might think in picking the wrong one. Some of the best ones won’t take your case on if you’ve already used someone else. They just don’t wanna clean up someone else’s mistakes.
If you have trouble coming up with the whole retainer in time, see if they will accept maybe half, just to get initial filings under way, and pay them the other half in another month or two. To help convince them, SHOW them your budget, and your plan to actually come up with the money shortly. They want a retainer because they are not gonna do work for which they don’t get paid. You wouldn’t either.
Ideally, you would see this mess coming from a long way away, and have the time to anticipate that you’re gonna need attorney’s fees, and save up for it. Unfortunately, sometimes a spouse is blindsided though. So if that’s the case, you gotta go to scorched earth on your budget and pull out all the stops, for a temporary period, to get the money. But it’s your kids we’re talking about here. It’s worth any sacrifice. Am I right? This is where the rubber meets the road with those inspirational memes you see on Facebook. This is not about a cute saying. This is real life.
If you need help with the mechanics of setting up a budget, or a sanity check on what you can afford, you can always schedule a free consultation with me and I can help you get started. You can find me at www.moneycoachbev.com.