Are your legal costs proportionate to your expected property settlement?

Cost vs benefit is something you should consider when working out your property settlement options. It doesn’t make sense to spend $30,000 in legal costs to fight over a possible $40,000.

Lots of people commit to a high cost, high conflict legal path without fully realising what they’re getting into. I’m fairly certain that if someone had sat them down at the outset and laid things out in plain language, they would have chosen a different path:

  • It will take about 2 years to sort out from start to finish. That is time you’ll never get back. It’s not fun to be in the midst of a legal fight. The adversarial nature of our legal system invites personal attacks and counter-attacks. Every time you read a letter or affidavit from the other side, you’re likely to feel anxious, angry and defensive. It impacts on your current relationships – you might find yourself snapping at your kids because you’ve just copped another grenade from your ex-partner. How else could you be enjoying this time – relaxing at home, playing with your kids, taking a family holiday, being productive at work rather than taking time off for multiple court events?
  • You’re going to pay around $30,000 (or more) to your lawyers. Not all in one go, but that’s probably how much you’ll have spent at the end. I’m guessing that there are lots of things you would prefer to buy with that money – things you would actually get some enjoyment from, rather than paying legal bills.
  • Whatever the state of your relationship with your ex-partner at the start of this process, it will almost certainly be worse at the end. If you’ve got kids together, consider how you and your ex-partner could possibly have a civil interaction after the hostility of a family law conflict.

With these significant financial and emotional costs in mind, some things to think about:

  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • Is this realistic?
  • Weighing all of this up, does it make sense to choose this path?
  • In dollar terms, is the gain you hope to achieve significant enough to justify going through this process?
  • If there are children involved, is there some other, better way to reach an amicable outcome?

No family lawyer I know would choose a high conflict legal path to settle their property or parenting dispute – I think that’s pretty telling.

Justine Dean – Samford Family Law