When You Can’t Pay for a Family Law Attorney

It is no secret that family law disputes – divorces, child custody actions, etc. – can be expensive to bring and pursue. To make matters worse for cash-strapped ex-spouses and/or parents, there is no constitutional “right” to have an attorney represent you in family law proceedings. In a criminal case, for example, a defendant charged with a crime who cannot afford legal services can ask the court to appoint him or her an attorney to help him or her prepare and present a legal defense. There is no similar “right” to an attorney in a family law case: if a litigant cannot afford the services of an attorney, he or she will need to appear in court without legal counsel.

Options for Cash-Strapped Family Law Litigantscan't pay for a family law attorney

Appearing in court for any type of legal matter without legal counsel can be extremely detrimental to your legal rights and interests. In the family law setting, this can mean an unequal division of property or the loss of custody or visitation rights (in extreme cases). It is generally advisable that family law litigants attempt to obtain some sort of legal representation. If you are not able to afford an attorney under any circumstances, the following are options to consider and investigate:

  • Ask if an attorney will represent you pro bono: Private attorneys are encouraged by the state and national bar associations to provide a certain number of hours of “free” (or pro bono) legal services to the community. While this is not a requirement, many attorneys do take this obligation seriously. If you cannot afford a particular private attorney, ask him or her if he or she would be willing to represent you free of charge.
  • Look for public and private legal aid societies: There are any number of legal aid societies that are publicly and/or privately funded that provide legal representation to needy individuals in a variety of legal disputes, including family law cases. While the services of attorneys that work for these societies are not free, they do often come at a lower cost that what a private attorney would charge. Your local community’s bar association or the Arizona State Bar Association can direct you to a nearby legal aid society that could help you.
  • Ask about additional payment options: Private attorneys have a great deal of flexibility in crafting their fee structures, in determining what they will charge to represent a person in a particular case and how these fees will be charged and collected. If an attorney you are considering retaining has a retainer fee or hourly rate that is simply too high for you and he or she is unwilling to represent you pro bono, ask if he or she would consider some alternate payment arrangement whereby you could pay a reduced fee over a longer period of time or where the attorney would discount his or her fee.
  • Look into legal clinics: There are two public law schools in Arizona, one in Phoenix at Arizona State University and the other in Tucson at the University of Arizona. Each of these schools run legal “clinics” whereby law students represent clients in a variety of legal disputes under the supervision of teachers who are also licensed attorneys. These clinics can provide low-cost or free representation to individuals who cannot afford an attorney. While these clinics are primarily designed to help students gain real-world experience in representing clients, a person using the services of a clinic can have some comfort knowing that the actions and activities of their student “attorney” are being monitored and reviewed by a licensed attorney.  If you can’t pay a family law attorney contact us to find out what your other options are.

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