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How to Pay for a Lawyer for Your Divorce

If you want a divorce but don't have a lot of money, you may be wondering how you will pay for a lawyer for your divorce. It's an issue many people face when getting a divorce.

When meeting with potential lawyers for your divorce, you should be open and honest about your financial situation. Divorce lawyers know that some clients have little or no money to pay for their divorce. In many situations, one spouse has been the sole breadwinner and the other spouse has little or no money in his or her own name.

How Much Will I Pay a Lawyer for My Divorce?

The cost of a divorce will vary depending on a number of factors. These include:

  • Is yours an uncontested divorce?
  • Are you and your spouse able to reach basic agreements about the division of property, child custody and support, and alimony?
  • If you and your spouse are unable to reach agreements about your divorce, what kinds of issues need to be resolved?
  • Do you live in an area with a high cost of living, where legal fees may be several hundred dollars an hour, or in an area with a lower cost of living, where legal fees may be less expensive?
  • How much does it cost to file for divorce in your area? Are there other required fees for mandatory mediation, parenting classes, etc.?

Before hiring a lawyer for your divorce, ask about the total estimated cost of filing for divorce, including filing costs, legal fees and other expenses. If you are concerned about your ability to pay, talk to your divorce attorney about the options.

  • Flat fee billing: If your divorce is relatively simple and straightforward, you may be able to hire an attorney to represent you for a flat fee. Understand, however, that attorneys will usually only offer to charge a flat fee if you are filing for an uncontested divorce. If unexpected problems arise, you'll probably incur additional fees.
  • Task-based billing: If you have a relatively simple divorce, your attorney may advise you to handle certain parts of the divorce yourself. For example, you may be able to negotiate a divorce agreement one-on-one with your spouse, without the assistance of attorneys. You could then pay your divorce lawyer to review that agreement and point out any potential problems. Hiring a lawyer for pieces of your divorce may help reduce legal fees.
  • Request that your spouse pay your legal fees: If your spouse has more money than you, you can request that your spouse pay some or all of your legal fees and costs. If your spouse does not voluntarily agree to this request, you can ask the judge who is hearing your divorce case to order your spouse to pay some of your legal expenses.
  • Set a budget: If both you and your spouse are on tight budgets, you may be unable to shift some of your legal fees to your spouse. If that's the case, then work with your attorney to set a budget for your legal fees and stick to it. This may mean that you have to restrain yourself--for example, you can't pick up the phone every time you have a question for your attorney. By the same token, your lawyer will have to develop a legal strategy that works within your budget.
  • Use "do it yourself" resources: If you were charged with a crime and could not afford a lawyer, one would be appointed to represent you. Divorce, on the other hand, is a civil matter, and the court will not appoint a free attorney for your divorce. Many family law courts do have a self-service divorce center with resources for people who are divorcing without an attorney. In some instances, local lawyers may volunteer to answer questions and help fill out forms. You may, however, be limited to booklets and instruction manuals.

Divorce can be a time filled with anxiety. You're going through a major life change, and if you have to worry about paying for the divorce, that may add to your worries. Above all else, be honest about your finances with yourself and your lawyer. If you know what you can afford to pay, then your attorney can realistically tell you what you can expect during your divorce.