All Woman

The cost of a divorce

By Lisa-Ann Edwards

Monday, June 28, 2004    

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When a marriage fails, the biggest issues in a divorce usually come down to a question of money.

Whether you're a man or a woman, the aggrieved party or the one anxious for the split, the entire process will be far less painful - emotionally and financially - if you can come to some reasonable financial agreement.

A huge part of the reason the lawyers can ring up such big bills for divorce settlements is the underlying emotion that keeps the meter running. If one party is intent on inflicting financial pain to make up for emotional loss, then no rational financial discussions can be held until the wounded party determines that the scales are in balance. Unfortunately, this process of settling the score often costs both parties, enriching only the lawyers.

So how do you go about getting a divorce?

Mediation

One of the quickest way to expedite a divorce is to turn to a professional mediator to resolve the issues. A mediator is trained not to "take sides" but to work out a settlement that is fair for both parties. Whether the issues are strictly financial - child support, maintenance, division of assets - or considerations such as child custody, or even the custody of a pet, these professionals are trained to work out compromises and solutions. Then, with those issues resolved, separate attorneys can draw up the documents to bring the agreement to court. This is a far less expensive and time-consuming process than letting the lawyers argue a settlement.

The legal avenues in Jamaica for getting a divorce are limited to two things:

A) Getting a private Lawyer to represent you.

B) Getting a Legal Aid Lawyer - The Legal Aid Lawyer is one who works on behalf of the government for those citizens who are unable to afford the services of a private lawyer.

There is no guarantee of a better outcome with a private lawyer versus a legal aid lawyer. It really is a matter of expediency. It often depends on the timing of the divorce, which simply means that if the courts are full, (which they usually are) then there are going to be delays. However, the private lawyer may be able to expedite a case for various reasons, including relationship and reputation in the court system.

If you are contemplating a divorce, the first step is to read and educate yourself about the laws of Jamaica. There have been amendments and enactments to the law, so what may have obtained in your mother's days may have changed significantly. Armed with the knowledge of what your entitlements are, then you need to secure the services of a reputable lawyer. It is best to get a lawyer who specializes in divorce law.

Let's examine the route of going with a private lawyer. You must first retain a lawyer. This is done by paying a retainer fee, which goes towards your overall fee that you will eventually pay. The retainer basically says to the lawyer that you are serious about using his or her service and therefore you are putting your money where your mouth is. It is difficult to say how much a retainer would be as each lawyer operates differently and may charge anywhere from 10-25% of the expected overall cost. Most experienced divorce lawyers will know off the bat the ballpark figure that it will cost you, but some will feign ignorance. It is therefore important to get a lawyer with whom you are comfortable.

Paying your retainer means that you have entered into an agreed arrangement with your lawyer. He/She will then advise you on how to proceed, giving assistance in areas such as the completion of the divorce statement and the servings of the summons.

The lawyer then sets a date for the first hearing of the case. Note, however, that for many lawyers each court appearance is recorded as a separate transaction and you are charged for each appearance they make in court. The rest of the monies you will pay are recorded as services for things such as the actual legal advice and the preparation of legal documents. After you have had your day in court and received the decree absolute from the judge, you will have to pay your lawyer his/her final payment.

Lisa-Ann Edwards is a corporate planning consultant. E-mail feedback to corpcon2004@yahoo.com.

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