This article is from Tracy Stewart, a financial professional based in College Station specializing in collaborative divorce, and a Collaborative Law Institute of Texas board member, whose credentials include CPA/PFS/CFF, CFP and CDFA.
Collaborative divorce lawyers keep telling me that I cannot go around telling people they will save money in a collaborative law divorce. I get it — there are no guarantees, and every case is unique, and therefore, it’s prudent not to create unrealistic expectations of a cheap divorce. Then I read an article like the The $100 Million Botched Divorce from the most recent edition of D Magazine, and I’m absolutely amazed by how expensive divorce can get when it’s not collaborative.
The story details how Ed Bailey and his wife, Lee, were trying to part their ways after more than 30 years of marriage. They chose the most commonly used divorce process — traditional litigation. Their estate was nearly $100 million. Their case came to a standstill after they spent $7.4 million on legal fees. That’s an astronomical figure, with two commas, and they were still unable to end their marriage.
According to the article, Ed wondered if the divorce attorneys had been racking up fees to take advantage of the couple’s wealth after the initial courtroom proceedings were unsuccessful in producing a divorce.
Ed and Lee changed attorneys, hiring Kevin Fuller and Kathryn Murphy respectively, and started over in a collaborative law process. $80,000 in fees later, the pair reached a mutually agreeable settlement and were finally divorced. That $80,000 might sound high, but it is just one percent of their litigation divorce fees that didn’t even deliver a divorce decree.
A few years ago, I had the honor of sharing the stage with Kevin Fuller at a presentation for a Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants Dallas chapter event. I recall his remarkable words.
“The total combined fees paid to me on over 60 collaborative law cases I’ve handled in the last eight years are less than the total combined fees paid to me on three of my aggressively contested litigation cases I’ve handled in the last three years. The irony is that the three aggressively contested litigation cases eventually settled after numerous hearings, depositions and partial trials, so that ultimately, they were resolved by settlement not trial.”
Collaborative law divorces might not always be inexpensive. And, certainly, not every couple has the unfortunate experience of the Baileys. But the shocking difference in cost between litigation and collaborative law in this couple’s story highlights the wisdom of at least investigating the collaborative law process before interviewing divorce attorneys.