How to Eliminate the High Cost of Discovery in your Divorce
Updated: Mar 5
If you have never been through a divorce, you may not understand what "discovery" means, how much time is involved, what a hassle it is, and how much it costs. From my perspective as a non-attorney, one of the reasons there is a discovery process is to ensure that both parties have access to the same information that allows each party to negotiate a fair agreement as part of a divorce settlement.
Unfortunately, the cost of discovery (and motions to compel discovery) can get out of control. Discovery can include interrogatories, requests for production of documents, depositions and subpoenas. The more activity in this area and the less cooperation between spouses, the higher the legal fees for both parties.
Don't get me wrong. I believe this process is necessary when one or both spouses are not forthcoming with information or do not understand how to provide essential information.
But does it always have to be this way?
Despite the growing interest in mediation, there are still plenty of divorces where each spouse hires an attorney to represent them throughout the process from start to finish. The litigation model often includes aspects of discovery which as I stated is time-consuming and expensive. In either method of divorce, clients are expected to know what they want.
Divorce mediators and attorneys are able to do their jobs effectively when clients come prepared. My colleagues, Catherine Shanahan, and Karen Chellew, offer a service called, "The MDS Financial Portrait. (The "MDS" stands for the name of their company, "My Divorce Solution.") This portrait is a standalone document that will identify, assemble, analyze, and interpret financial information regarding a divorcing couple's lifestyle budget and their assets, debts, income and expenses. This blueprint will serve to distinguish separate from community or marital property in real estate, retirement accounts, and equity compensation such as restricted stock units (RSUs) and stock options.
Imagine the savings if both parties and their divorce teams agreed to work with the same financial blueprint that collects financial information, assesses components of the entire marital estate, interprets those components into language that everyone can understand and presents a framework that enables parties to compromise with clarity. How much money could be saved by substantially reducing the amount of time and dispute usually involved in the discovery process? Tens of thousands of dollars is not an unreasonable estimate, particularly for cases involving a business, private equity or other illiquid investments, unvested restricted stock units or stock options, multiple real estate properties, a pension, complicated debt structures, separate property claims, deferred compensation, or "phantom" income.
With the MDS Financial Portrait in hand, one or both spouses can hire a certified divorce financial analyst CDFA) like myself to review the supporting data and financial options and recommend which ones would align best with the spouse's current and future financial needs, wants, and goals. Post-divorce, the portrait becomes an essential foundation for a relationship with a financial planner, investment advisor, or estate attorney.
To learn more about the MDS Financial Portrait offered by My Divorce Solution, click here.
Laurie Itkin is a financial advisor, wealth manager, and certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA). She is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, Every Woman Should Know Her Options: Invest Your Way to Financial Empowerment. In both 2017 and 2018 Investopedia named Ms. Itkin one of the top 100 most influential financial advisors in the country.
Through her financial consulting company, The Options Lady, she provides divorce-related financial planning and analysis to individuals and couples throughout all stages of the divorce process, with a specialty in California divorces. She is a member of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners (ADFP) and is certified by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA).
Laurie has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and San Diego Union Tribune. She has also appeared as a guest on broadcast news channels.