Divorce - When You Cannot Afford an Attorney
The prospect of divorce can be frightening if you cannot afford an attorney, but it is not as hopeless as it seems. There are several options that can help to reduce the cost of legal counsel, and in some cases you may not have to pay for your attorney at all. No matter how dire your financial circumstances, never assume that you cannot afford legal help.
Do not forego this critical step, even if you feel certain that hiring an attorney will not be a realistic option. Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation where you can learn what you are up against, how much it will likely cost, and what your options really are. You may be pleasantly surprised. Even if you discover that you cannot afford to retain legal counsel, you will be much better prepared for your case.
Court ordered payment by your spouse
In some divorce cases one party may be required to pay the legal expenses of the other party. This does not help much if you cannot afford to hire an attorney in the first place. If your spouse is at a significant financial advantage, you can request a court order requiring your spouse to pay your legal fees during the process to level the playing field.
It is unusual, but a few divorce lawyers may accept payment on a contingency basis, meaning that rather receiving an hourly rate they receive a percentage of the amount you are awarded if and only if you win your case.
You can hire an attorney to assist you in representing yourself. Another option is limited representation in which your attorney only appears for certain hearings and only works on the more difficult aspects of the case. This is more common than you may think. Even people who hire attorneys to handle their entire case often hire different attorneys to handle different aspects of their case. Alimony, child support, property division and other matters sometimes call for different attorneys with different specialties.
Assistance from the state
Because divorce is a civil not a criminal matter, the court will not appoint an attorney to represent you during your divorce. You can, however, contact your local Legal Aid office, which offers free or discounted legal services for qualifying low-income parties. Each state has different standards for calculating indigence, and many offer a sliding scale payment based on your ability to pay. Each state also offers a different level of help, but most offer self-help workshops at the very least. Legal aid offices that do not provide assistance with divorce can often recommend attorneys or organizations that offer free or discounted representation.
Exploring other options
The best way to handle a divorce is to work it out amongst yourselves. The more you and your spouse can agree on without outside intervention the better. You will still want to have the final details approved by your attorney, but many attorneys will only charge a flat fee to review the final documents. If you and your spouse are not able to reach an agreement, on your own, consider mediation. Mediation is much cheaper than full-blown litigation, and most divorces can be settled through mediation without a court battle. If you can come to a resolution through mediation you will want to have an independent attorney review your final agreement. You should also check your employee benefits. Some employee benefits include legal insurance.
If you are facing or considering divorce, even if you feel certain that you cannot afford a lawyer, contact an experienced divorce attorney today.