Usually when you hire an attorney, it’s to avoid being drained financially by an ex-spouse, former business partner or adversary who wants to sue you. But what do you do when you need a lawyer to protect your assets and paying for one is out of the question? In a criminal proceeding, if you can’t afford legal assistance, a court will appoint an attorney for you. In a civil case, generally described as a dispute between two private parties, to get legal representation, you have to get creative.
Here’s how to find legal help if you can’t afford a lawyer:
• Contact the city courthouse.
• Seek free lawyer consultations.
• Look to legal aid societies.
• Visit a law school.
• Contact your county or state bar association.
• Go to small claims court.
Depending on your situation, you can employ a variety of strategies to get free legal advice or cheap legal assistance.
Contact the City Courthouse
Whether it’s a divorce or you’re being taken to court for something else, if you don’t have a lawyer, a logical move would be to call the courthouse and ask who they would suggest going to.
Seek Free Lawyer Consultations
Some attorneys will offer free consultations usually by phone or videoconference. You aren’t likely to come away feeling like you’re ready to try your first case, but even if it’s just a 15-minute call, you may at least get enough information to have a better sense of what legal morass you’re in for. You might also be able to get some direction as to who can help you for free or a bargain basement price.
You could also consider hiring an up-and-coming law student to give you advice. Many law schools have pro bono programs in which law students can offer free legal advice.
Contact Your County or State Bar Association
You can call the second and fourth Fridays of each month from 9 to 11 a.m., as part of their Ask an Attorney Service, and they’ll answer legal questions for free. If you need advice that doesn’t fit in that window, the association offers a 30-minute consultation with an attorney for $30, and for certain topics for instance, pertaining to Social Security, unemployment, workers’ compensation and personal injuries, among others – they’ll offer the 30-minute consultation free of charge.
Go to Small Claims Court
Unfortunately, this isn’t a viable option for everyone. For instance, you can’t go to small claims court if you’re trying to work out your financial affairs after a divorce. But if the stakes are fairly low where someone owes you money or is trying to collect money from you, and it isn’t worth risking lawyer fees, you might consider small claims court.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
After looking around and talking to enough attorneys or law students, you may decide that you do need a lawyer and the more you look around, you may find one who will work with you on a small budget. It’s worth asking around because you may find that the fees aren’t as high as you fear, especially if you can get them capped. An attorney might give you a discount. Also, many attorneys offer payment plans, so that you’re paying monthly instead of one huge sum all at once. Of course, you could hit the jackpot and find a pro bono lawyer, or you might find someone willing to take your case on contingency. That is, if you lose your case, you won’t pay money, but if you win, the law firm will take a portion of the money awarded to you. However, it’s important to tread carefully before picking a lawyer. Choose a reputable attorney and make sure the rate is agreed upon before the lawyer takes your case. And don’t be too shocked if an attorney turns you down. It’s risky for lawyers to take cases on contingency, and they need to be confident a judge or jury will side with you, and that there’s going to be something sizable awarded to you.
How Much Does a Child Custody Court Case Cost?
Custody Battle Cost
The cost of a child custody court case can range anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000-plus according to most sources. Why such an enormous range? Because there are so many factors that impact how much a case will cost.
The two factors that will have the most impact, include:
• The attorney you hire
• If your custody case is contested or uncontested
How much does a custody lawyer cost?
Attorney fees can range anywhere from $85 to $400 or more per hour depending on the experience level of the lawyer you hire, their reputation, and their track record of success in litigating child custody cases. Attorneys can bill for their services in several different ways. A straightforward hourly billing process is standard, meaning you pay-by-the-hour for any time the attorney spends on your case, which means every phone call, email, meeting, and court appearance about your case will increase your bill. Some lawyers will bill a flat fee for child custody services. If the case is simple and straightforward, the flat fee will likely be less than a complex or contested custody case. A typical flat cost can range from $3,000 to $20,000. Finally, some lawyers charge on a retainer basis. A retainer is a fee paid in advance to the lawyer for handling your case. The lawyer draws from this retainer to pay his or her expenses as the case proceeds. If the case is finished quickly, depending on your agreement, you may be refunded remaining funds left in the retainer. If the retainer is used up before the case is settled, you will be required to make an additional payment. It’s essential to understand what is included in your attorney fees. Other items that attorneys may charge for include travel expenses, paralegal services, copying, faxes, and more. Make sure your contract is clear about how billing works, so you are not surprised by fees you didn’t expect.
Contested or Uncontested Case
The other major factor that impacts how much your child custody case will cost is whether your case is contested or uncontested. Having a contested case means that there is a dispute or challenge about how the custody of the child will be handled. For example, if one person is determined to have sole custody and refuses to cooperate or compromise, the case will proceed to a full-court trial, which will then require depositions, court time, possibly specialists or expert witnesses, and much more.
Other Child Custody Fee Factors
Other factors that may impact how much your child custody court case will cost include:
• The state where you live.
• If you need assistance negotiating or compromising on specific terms within your child custody agreement or parenting plan, you may need a mediator or arbitrator. Those costs can range from $100 – $300 an hour.
• If you require a custody evaluation done by an expert such as a child psychologist, these experts can cost anywhere from $1,500 – $6,000 or more.
• You may incur fees for miscellaneous items such as paying the sheriff or third-party to serve paperwork, court filing fees, subpoenaing bank records, or other documents.
Usually, each party in a child custody case is responsible for paying their legal fees. A judge might make an exception if one party makes substantially more money than the other, or if one party cannot afford legal representation. Some people may be entitled to legal aid or a pro bono attorney depending on their income level. While the thought of hiring an attorney and paying legal fees may seem daunting, in some child custody cases, it may be one of the best investments you ever make if it ensures the best situation for your child. Many attorneys will allow you to schedule an initial consultation at little or no cost so that you can learn more about your options.
Know Who You’re Dealing With
Many lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law. Be sure your attorney has relevant experience. An attorney who regularly drafts wills may not be the best choice to represent you in a courtroom if the subject is an auto accident. If family, friends or co-workers have hired a lawyer for a similar reason, ask them for recommendations. If not, check with your state and local bar associations. Some groups offer lawyer referral services for their members.
Do Your Research
Try to talk with more than one lawyer before you choose the one to represent you. But find out if you will be charged for an initial meeting. Be prepared to describe your problem in a brief, clear summary. Ask the various lawyers about their experience, their fees, what your options might be, and your chances of success, who will do the work, and when the problem might be resolved.
Know the Real Deal
Once you decide to hire a lawyer, be sure you understand what you’ve both agreed to. How often will the lawyer update you? What information will you are required to provide? Do you understand all your options? What will the total cost be? If you’re not clear on exactly what the lawyer is doing, ask for clarification. Although your chances of success can’t be guaranteed, discuss approaches to your case. You should be comfortable with your lawyer’s approach to your case. Be up front with your lawyer on all the facts and circumstances surrounding your situation. You may want to get the agreement with your lawyer in writing.
Remember the most expensive lawyer is not necessarily the best one for you. Nor is a “bargain” rate always a great deal. Look for the best balance of experience and cost. You may want to ask your lawyer if a junior lawyer or paralegal can perform some of the work to lower your costs. You also may want to ask if there are tasks you could perform yourself to save time and money. For example, you might be able to copy, pick up or deliver certain documents. A lawyer may charge you a flat fee for a particular service or offer alternative methods of payment. Each has benefits and risks.
A contingent fee arrangement means that your lawyer gets a percentage of whatever money you receive as resolution of your case. If you receive no money, then your lawyer collects no fees. However, you may owe charges for court fees, copying, and hiring expert witnesses. If you have very little money to pay hourly fees, it may be appropriate to negotiate a contingency fee with your lawyer. But before agreeing to a contingent fee, consider that:
• The size of a contingency fee, usually a percentage of any money you receive to resolve the case, is always negotiable. Sometimes you can negotiate a sliding scale fee (for example, 30 percent of any recovery up to $10,000; 20 percent of any recovery up to $50,000, etc.). Remember that there’s no particular percentage of a consumer’s recovery that constitutes a “standard” or “official” fee.
• The size of the contingency fee should reflect the amount of work that will be required by the attorney. Some cases are straightforward; others can be novel or uncertain. You may want to ask whether the case is likely to settle quickly and whether government agencies will gather significant amounts of evidence. A fee arrangement sometimes can be negotiated with a lower percentage for a quick settlement and a higher percentage if it goes to trial. Be sure you know exactly what is covered in your agreement. Your state also may have rules about maximum contingency fees; check with your state’s bar association.
You pay the lawyer a set dollar amount for a particular service, like writing a will. If the matter is simple and straightforward, say, an uncontested divorce or a simple bankruptcy filing, many lawyers often charge a flat fee. Be sure to find out exactly what the flat fee includes.
The lawyer charges a set fee per hour. Your final cost will depend on how long it takes to complete your work. Hourly rates vary according to a lawyer’s expertise and experience. An experienced lawyer may charge a higher hourly rate but may complete the work more quickly. Because the hours worked on your case can add up quickly, you should ask for a written estimate of the number of hours necessary to complete your case to get an idea of what your final bill might amount to.
Your lawyer may ask you to pay a fee up front. A lawyer can use this fee often called a retainer as a down payment on expenses and fees. It is important to review your account from time to time to understand how your money is being spent.
Public Legal Services
Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for free or low cost legal services through special organizations. For example, you may be eligible for free representation in landlord-tenant or divorce cases. Look in your local telephone directory for legal services organizations or legal clinics associated with accredited law schools.
Pre-paid legal plan
Some organizations offer pre-paid legal plans that work like an insurance policy. In exchange for a monthly fee, you receive certain legal services as you need them. However, the fees charged and the services covered vary with each state’s law and the particular plan. Check out any plan carefully to be sure you know what’s covered and whether it makes sense for your situation.
Before You Hire Child Custody Lawyers
1. Consider Your Financial Resources: When deciding whether to hire a child custody lawyer, the most important consideration is the availability of financial resources. The retainer for a child custody lawyer can be quite expensive, depending on a number of factors including how many hours it may take to resolve the case, as well as the state in which you live. When considering whether to hire child custody lawyers, ask about the anticipated costs upfront. If you reach the conclusion that you are unable to afford a private attorney, remember that you still have options. You may be entitled to free legal aid or low-cost representation through the family court. In some jurisdictions, the court may base your entitlement to free representation on your current income.
2. Weigh the Complexity of Your Case: Typically, parents are advised to hire child custody lawyers when facing a difficult or complex child custody issue. For example, interstate child custody cases are usually considered complex. If you are facing a difficult custody case and you feel unsure about representing yourself, you should consider hiring a child custody lawyer who specializes in complex legal issues and has experience in family court. If you decide to represent yourself during your child custody hearing, being well prepared will give you the best chance of winning child custody. If you’re not sure where to begin, start by reading up on the child custody laws in your state.
3. Consider the Attorney’s Reputation: Many parents decide to hire a child custody lawyer based on the attorney’s reputation for winning child custody cases. Look to hire a child custody attorney with experience handling similar cases. And don’t be shy about asking for references! This is likely the most important case you’ll ever face in your life, and you have every right to investigate the attorney’s reputation before signing on the bottom line. If you are eligible for low-cost or free representation, be extra picky about the attorney’s reputation for winning child custody, especially contested cases that require representation in court. Be sure to ask any prospective child custody lawyer about his or her strategy for winning child custody cases, too.
When you need a family lawyer, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506