This is the second part of a five part series on frequently asked questions (FAQs) in Family Law.  This question is really two questions, obviously.  But the two are very intermixed and they are often asked in conjunction with each other.

I’m going to give you an answer that is exactly what you’d expect from a lawyer (and probably this type of answer is what makes lawyers widely despised).  THE ANSWER IS….    IT DEPENDS.

Before you “Google” away to another site, stick with me here!   You’ll see that this answer is a good one; one that a client can USE to his or her advantage.

What are the variables and factors that can make a divorce or paternity action take a long time or be relatively quick?  What makes a case expensive and what makes it affordable? 

Here are a dozen questions designed to help you think about your case in terms of costs and time:

  1. Does one party still believe that reconcilation is possible?
  2. Is either party still so emotionally upset that he or she cannot and will not settle the case until more time has been allowed to grieve the relationship?
  3. Are you and the other party unable to discuss issues or come to agreements without the help of others?  Are you and the other party unable to communicate at all?
  4. Are you and the other party in disagreement about an issue that is not likely to have middle ground, such as relocation to another state or country?
  5. Are there allegations of infidelity, domestic violence, or neglect or abuse of children- all of which make a case emotionally more difficult as well as factual more complex?
  6. Is there any family member or third party who has historically interfered in the relationship and who may interfere with settlement of the case?
  7. Do you and the other party have vastly different parenting styles that represent different value systems, religions, or philosophies that could create co-parenting issues?
  8. Do you or the other party lack the money to keep up with legal fees and the fees of other experts on the case (appraisers, custody evaluators, etc.)?  Would there be delay in case because of non-payment of fees by either party?
  9. Does either party have the temperament and money to take a position that is legally risky based on “principle”?  In other words, does either party have the resources and personality to take a case up to the Utah Court of Appeals or Supreme Court of Utah just to contest law that the person does not believe in?
  10. Are the issues in your case primarily financial and, if so, are each of you willing to disclose your financial situation without the need for subpoenas and other legal forms of getting information?
  11. Do you both trust that the other person will negotiate a settlement in good faith, with full disclosure of information, the intent to minimize emotional damage, and the intent to be quick, fair, and retain a good relationship?
  12. DId you hire a lawyer, or get advice from one at a consultation, and you believe that this lawyer was forthright and direct with you about the problems with your case, the holes in your arguments, the status of the law on the issues in your case, and whether or not the facts of your case support your position?

If you answered “yes” to the first 9 questions and “no” to the last 3, you may be looking at a long and expensive divorce or paternity case.  If you answered “no” to the first 9 questions and “yes” to the last 3 questions, you should be able to steer clear of court hearings for the most part and come to a reasonable resolution in a relatively short period of time; the less time it takes to come to agreements, and the more you can agree without counsel involved, the less money you will spend on attorneys fees generally.

However, rather than focusing on exact “yes” and “no” answers to the above questions, these 12 questions are designed to help you think more clearly about what makes a case expensive and delayed.  Reviewing the questions again, you will see that almost every question has to do with the parties’ expectations, behaviors, feelings, personalities, and the ability to afford the litigation. 

Notice what types of things are NOT on this list:  the ages and number of children, the value of assets, the amount of debt, the complexity of the financial situation, the fact that a party has a business or holds more assets in his or her name, the inability to remember if the silverware was a gift or a purchase.  These things are just facts; they just exist and can be researched, considered, discussed, calculated, and resolved.

Because so many of the factors that lead to delay and expense are related to emotions, personality, and expectations, there is no way of predicting how long the divorce will take and how much it will cost. 

But, what you can do is consider your own answers to the 12 questions above.  Where are you emotionally?  What personality do you bring to the table?  What is your own financial situation?  Do you feel that you have had enough assistance in formulating realistic expectations?  

Because you have been in a realtionship with the other party, you also probably know a lot about the other party’s status on these same issues.   Consider what you believe the other party would answer to these same 12 questions. 

By attempting to look at yourself and the other party objectively, you can begin to assess the situation and have conversations with your attorney about time, delay, costs, and expectations regarding the case.  In most cases, you can help your lawyer answer this question much better than the lawyer could ever answer it without your input!