Friday, February 16, 2007

You think you cannot afford an attorney for your family law case?

I have lost track of how many people come to me after the divorce is final and who say that they have a problem with the Decree but they did not have enough money for an attorney.

If the problem has to do with property, usually nothing can be done unless they come in before the time is up for an appeal. Even then that may not help.

Custody, support and parenting time (visitation) may not cause so much trouble. These can be modified until the children are emancipated.

I find most of these people who say they cannot afford an attorney never called an attorney. They just believed that they could not afford an attorney. Now they find out they cannot afford the divorce.

Indiana law allows for attorney fees. The trial court can order attorney fees for the entire divorce case. (The trial court also can order them in modification cases). Parties’ incomes determine how the court orders attorney fees except for contempt. (Contempt is about enforcing the court’s orders and it will depend on winning the case rather than the income of the parties.) If one party has a great deal less of an income, the other party needs to expect to pay attorney fees.

Regarding fees, I expect I do not differ greatly from other Indiana attorneys. I charge a retainer regardless of whether or not we will be asking for fees from the other side. Why? Because you, the client, need to have a stake in this case and a retainer shows me that you are serious about the case. If the court does order the other side to pay your fees, then you will be reimbursed your retainer as it is collected from the other side.

Bottom line: call your local family law attorneys and see what they charge and also explain your financial situation before you find yourself with a Decree of Dissolution that puts you in a bad spot.

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