Love Me Don’t ex’s Paul McCartney and his estranged wife Heather Mills faced off in a London courtroom today, the first of a planned five-day hearing that could result in the largest divorce settlement in British history.
At stake for the couple, who married less than four years ago and have no prenuptial agreement, is the 65 year-old former Beatle’s reported $1.6 billion fortune, and the $156 million that the ex-model Mills, 40, is reportedly demanding. McCartney, who is paying close to $60,000 a day in legal fees, plans to use forensic accountants to argue that his estate is worth considerably less, and that Mills deserves a settlement closer to $19.5 million.
Even if you don’t have Beatles-sized assets to protect, an attorney is an important advocate when you are going through a divorce. Experts agree that the best way to find representation is through word-of-mouth by asking your friends or relatives for recommendations.
“It used to be anybody and everybody coming out of law school was a divorce lawyer,” says James Gross, a divorce attorney in Chevy Chase, Maryland. But divorces today are much more complex and can often require several areas of specialization. Now experts are required “in bankruptcy, business law, tax law and real estate law, because all those things can enter into a divorce case,” says Gross. Determine what your biggest issues are and look for a divorce attorney with the appropriate area of expertise. If you’ve hired an attorney in the past with your spouse, look for someone new. Otherwise, your lawyer faces potential conflicts with confidentiality.
No matter who you choose, make sure there’s a clear written agreement with an explanation of billing ahead of time. A divorce can be expensive, and those wanting to keep down costs might want to consider mediation. Both parties must agree to a mediator, who then meets with the two sides on an hourly basis to help reach an amicable agreement. Because you pay as you go and often do not need a pay a retainer up-front, mediation can save thousands of dollars. “You’re sitting in the same room, working through the agreement and not playing telephone through the attorneys,” says William Wiesner, a divorce mediator based in Long Island, New York. “You’re paying for one person, rather than two. The only time it doesn’t work is if one of the parties wants to screw the other one.”
To find an accredited mediator, check the Family and Divorce Mediation Council website for your state. Many mediators offer free-consultations. If you choose to go through a mediator, Wiesner urges clients to hire a lawyer to review the final agreement before it is signed. Typically, said Wiesner, this consultation should only incur a one hour fee. Of course you never know how much your divorce is going to cost in the end, but the court room is usually the most expensive way to resolve your issues, says Gross. “The most economical way is to work it out on your own.”