Last week I spoke at a seminar for family lawyers on the topic of discovery and experts in the current economic environment. As we wade through this financial crisis, the cost of a divorce, or other family litigation is yet another area in which we must look carefully at how we allocate our clients’ limited resources. 

The discovery phase of litigation is one in which a client can help his or her lawyer to effectively allocate limited resources simply by being organized and making sure that the attorney gets needed information early on in the process. For example, in every divorce, past bank statements and credit card bills will be requested. Financial institutions are charging significant fees in order to process requests for documents. On the other hand, an account holder can most often obtain statements as well as cancelled check images dating back eighteen months or longer. The simple act of asking your clients to obtain these statements early on can decrease costs. Similarly, if any records can be obtained electronically, this can save on copying costs (and save a few trees along the way).


Early and succinct communication with adversaries and experts are also a necessity. Often, litigants each jump to retain their own experts at the start of a case. Certainly, this is very often necessary. However, there are often cases in which a joint expert can perform the work. In some cases, where there is a significant valuation issue, it may make sense to have a joint expert perform the empirical work, and each litigant can hire their own expert to analyze the data.

Custody disputes are another area in which litigants often spend unnecessary amounts of fees. Sometimes, custody evaluations costing in the tens of thousands of dollars are conducted out of anger at the other party more than a bona fide concern about custody. In some counties in New Jersey, Custody Neutral Assessments (CNA’s) are being utilized. These are assessments by a licensed psychologist who has been appointed by the Court to spend four hours with the parties and if appropriate, the children, and provide the litigants with impressions about the custody/parenting time aspects of the case. In many instances, the litigants will read the impressions, get a sense of where the case is going and then will be able to resolve the case.


This is not an exhaustive list, but merely some thoughts on how an attorney can work with the client and be sensitive to the financial realities that we are experiencing. An open conversation with your attorney as well as a willingness to explore some innovative methods of obtaining information can, in many cases, relieve some of the pressure.