It’s no secret that hiring a lawyer for any reason is expensive. We bill for everything. In those rare cases where we work on a contingency fee basis, you pay nothing in advance, but in the end, we take a huge piece of the money “awarded” to you. When seeking legal counsel, you should ask about rates and billing practices. It may be a little counter-intuitive, but sometimes hiring a cheap lawyer is the most expensive decision you could make. An experienced, highly-trained lawyer who is a specialist in the practice area may charge more per hour than a less-expensive competitor, but with that experience often comes efficiency, insight, and sometimes better judgment.
Settlement is often pitched as an ideal outcome in civil and criminal litigation. Settlement can indeed be a great cost and risk mitigation strategy. However, settlement means compromise, which means that the agreed result will almost certainly be less than your original goal for the case. In a civil lawsuit, settlement likely means receiving less money than you are owed. In a criminal charge, settlement may mean probation, a criminal conviction, or even prison time when you were hoping for a dismissal.
Civil and criminal cases involve disputes about past events: a car wreck, a broken promise, or an altercation. Family law is different. Family law cases deal with the past, present, and future. Family law orders involve ongoing and future rights and obligations: child support, spousal support, property transfers, and parenting time. When you are considering settlement in a family law case, you need to think about different kinds of costs: the cost of trial and the future cost and consequences of a settlement that is less than ideal.
A poorly-defined, or poorly-written settlement is truly not worth the paper it’s written on. Sometimes a lawyer can fix a bad family law agreement, which will likely cost many multiples more than it would have cost to craft the deal properly in the first place. Unfortunately, however, in many cases, no lawyer or court will have the power to correct a poorly-designed settlement. Taking shortcuts in your negotiation and paperwork to save money could cost you far more than you want to pay in the future.
When considering whether to compromise, you should weigh the cost of going to trial and not going to trial. The cost of trial includes attorney fees and legal options available to the judge or jury for your situation. The cost of not going to trial may include accepting less than you deserve, limits to your rights to enforce or collect, and future attorney fees and effort necessary to correct, clarify, or modify the order in the future.