Getting a divorce is one of the most difficult and expensive things you will experience in your life. Like most serious issues, you know it’s best handled by an expert. But what do you do if you can’t afford a divorce attorney?
Find a Pro Bono Attorney
Many people will tell you that if you can’t afford an attorney, to find someone pro bono. A pro bono attorney is someone who will represent you without charging a legal fee. There are several problems with this, the biggest being that most lawyers, especially divorce lawyers, won’t work for free. While many attorneys are willing to provide pro bono services for relatively simple matters, divorces can be very time consuming and complex so it’s generally not a beneficial for the divorce attorneys to take on cases.
A good place to start looking for pro bono representation is by contacting Legal Aid in your county. They typically have very limited resources so there may be a really long wait list to get free representation. You’ll also likely have to meet certain income requirements, and if your income is higher than the threshold you may be ineligible for the service.
Call Your Bar Association
Another great place to start is by contacting your local bar association. They may be able to point you in the direction of pro or low bono legal services.
Some offer discounted consultations with attorneys who may also be able to guide you to the resources you need.
Get A Court Appointed Attorney
If you can’t afford an attorney and your divorce case involves any custody, visitation or order of protection issues, may ask the judge to assign you a lawyer free of charge. This free lawyer will only be required to handle custody/visitation or order of protection issues, and you will have to represent yourself for the other parts (such as financial issues) of the divorce.
There is an income threshold and you have to provide financial proof that you qualify for a court appointed attorney.
Go to Family Court
If the only issues in your divorce are child custody and support, and you can’t afford an attorney, consider going to family court before starting a divorce action. It’s a little easier to represent yourself in family court, and once you get custody and support orders, you can proceed with an uncontested divorce.
Get An Order For Counsel Fees
If you can’t afford an attorney and you don’t qualify for a court appointed attorney, the judge can order your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees if they are the monied spouse.
You would have to make a motion for this and the monied spouse has the right to give an arguments as to why they should not pay. If your motion is granted, the money will be paid directly to your attorney.
Keep in mind that this is not automatic or guaranteed, so many attorneys will requires you to pay at least enough to cover the cost of the motion before they represent you. This is to ensure that even if the motion for counsel fees is denied, they get paid for the time they spent on the motion.
Get A Loan
If you know that you will be getting a lump sum during or after the divorce, for example you and your spouse agree to sell the marital residence, it may be a good idea to borrow money to pay attorneys fees. This is a good option if there are substantial assets at stake that you can’t liquidate during the divorce.
You can also use a credit card or borrow from friends and family as long as you will be able to pay them back.
If none of those options work for you, you have no choice but to represent yourself. If you are filing for an uncontested divorce, meaning your spouse will not disagree with anything, you can file without the help of a lawyer by using the uncontested divorce do-it-yourself program available on the NY State Courts website.
If your case is contested and you have to represent yourself, you can find many tools and resources at the help centers located in the Supreme Courts of each NY county.
You can also reach out to attorneys to see if they offer any services that will help you represent yourself. I offer a limited scope representation service for pro se litigants that includes a 90 minute consultation where we go over the details of your case and I give you tips on how to represent yourself in court. Contact me for more details.
Divorce can be very complex, especially if you have children, property, own a business or have a pension or retirement fund. In order to get the best outcome, you need the assistance of the profession and should make every effort to hire one if you can. Hopefully some of these tips can help if you absolutely cannot afford an attorney.
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