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How to Retain a Divorce Attorney if You Are Low-Income

Whether you want to begin divorce proceedings or have been served with marriage dissolution documents from your spouse, low-cost services and attorneys are available to assist you in handling your own divorce or who will represent you throughout the process.

Starting the Process

Divorce proceedings can be very expensive; advance retainers of $5,000 or more and hourly fees of $300 are not uncommon. Unless you have substantial savings and a good income, high-priced legal counsel is likely out of your range. However, a number of attorneys and other legal service agencies can help you.

If you have been in a short marriage, usually less than 5 years in duration, have no children or substantial assets, and the divorce is uncontested, you may be able to use truncated or summary procedures that enable you and your spouse to obtain a divorce for not much more than the court filing fees. Most counties provide forms on their sites for downloading for free and offer questionnaires and information to see if you qualify for the summary proceedings. If not, retain an attorney with fees within your means of income, or use a legal services company to help you prepare the forms for a few hundred dollars.

Finding Legal Services

  • Local or state bar associations
  • Legal aid offices
  • Attorneys who advertise as low-income divorce attorneys
  • Obtaining court-ordered attorney’s fees

Many local bar associations maintain lists of divorce attorneys who charge low hourly fees or set fees at reduced rates. You may also obtain assistance in responding to divorce papers or in starting an action from free or low-cost legal aid offices. These offices can refer you to attorneys who, in some circumstances, will represent low-income clients either at no-cost or at greatly reduced fees.

Many lawyers who advertise low-cost divorce services are experienced and competent attorneys. Before retaining an attorney based on an advertisement, however, do your due diligence and learn about the attorney’s credentials and reputation in the legal community by researching them in the legal directory, Martindale-Hubbell, and your local bar association Web site. In some cases, attorneys may only charge you a nominal fee upfront if there is a reasonable chance a court will award you attorney’s fees, especially if your spouse has a greater income

If you have children, you may have issues of custody, visitation, and child support that you should not attempt to handle on your own. With some research, you can retain a skilled divorce attorney despite your low-income status who will competently represent you throughout the divorce process.