Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Pay for an Attorney

One of the basic issues for someone needing an attorney is how to pay for one.  For some people, it's not really a concern.  For others, it may seem insurmountable.  Keep in mind that courts don't appoint attorneys to represent parties in divorces and most family law cases.  If you want a pro bono attorney, you pretty much have to meet very strict guidelines on income and assets and then find a Legal Aid office or clinic that can take you on.  Legal Aid is normally overextended and underfunded.  They do great work with limited resources, but they can't help very many.  That means  you are probably on your own.  You should probably assume that you won't get a free lawyer.

As you may know, attorneys charge different rates, retainers and total fees.  Some charge flat fees, but most charge hourly.  You should check around to find a financial arrangement that is affordable for you.  The more experienced attorneys charge more, but even a less-experienced attorney is usually a valuable help for you.

Where to find the money:  Attorneys know that the following are some potential sources of funds to pay attorney's fees:
  • Cash, from a stash.  Some people do keep a private sum of cash hidden for a rainy day.  Divorces qualify as a rainy day, so that cash can be put to good use, if there is any cash.
  • Money from a joint account.  Unless there is a court order prohibiting removing money for attorney's fees, joint accounts may fund you to get started.
  • Assets that can be sold.  Be careful about selling things.  Your attorney can tell you whether it is a good idea in your case.
  • Getting a loan from somewhere.  If you have good credit, that might be a possibility.
  • Family help.  That's usually a good source, although it might run out.  Family members can usually see the importance of helping.
  • Credit card.  Most attorneys will be happy to take a charge on a credit card in your name.
  • Contribution by your spouse.  You might be able to ask a court to order your spouse to pay some or all of your fees.  The likelihood of this happening increases when you are able to point out cash or an asset that be used to produce the attorney fee needed.  On the other hand, without a ready source for the payment, it is unlikely that a court will order a payment.
Try to be creative and come up with a unique source for your case.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to Decide Which Family Law Attorney to Hire

Once you have made the decision to hire an attorney, you need to look around to find out who is available.  There are many attorneys and there are many different personalities and approaches to handling a family law case.  How do you decide who to hire?  Here's how you move forward in your quest.

Where to find attorneys.
  • Get references or referrals from friends, relatives, other lawyers or any other professionals you know.  It helps to get some information from someone who knows or knows of the attorney, but even a glowing report doesn't mean a good fit for you. Ask for some recommendations from someone who knows one or more family lawyers, and then investigate.
  • Check on line.  There's lots of information you can find by doing searches on line.  If you don't know how to do it, get someone to help you.  You can get lists of attorneys, reviews of attorneys, web sites and writing (such as blogs) to help inform you about the attorneys.  Read what you can about each attorney to get a feel for their approach.
What to look for in attorneys.
  • Experience.  The more complicated the case, the greater the value of experience.  You can decide how much experience is needed for your case.
  • Expertise. Some attorneys are Board Certified Specialists.  That means that they have met rigorous standards of the State Bar.  The requirements include a significant caseload of family law cases, involving a wide variety of issues and extensive involvement with various  courts.  It also requires much more continuing legal education than most attorneys get and it includes a requirement of passing an extremely difficult test.  After becoming Board Certified Specialists, the attorneys must maintain a significant practice in the area and continue the education requirements.
  • Meeting and exceeding the continuing education requirement of the State Bar.  The law changes and attorneys need to keep up with the changes and find ways to practice more effectively.  Generally, attorneys who attend a lot of continuing legal education will be up-to-date and will have new and creative ways to help their clients.
  • Convenient location. Location may or may not matter to you.  For some people, they want a lawyer close to home.  For others, the location doesn't matter.  You can decide how important it is for you.
  • Compatible personality.  This may be the most important difference-maker for many people.  There are many highly-qualified, experienced and well-trained attorneys around.  Choosing between them may come down to a matter of personality.  Talk with more than one and decide who you feel more comfortable with.
 With all of the above in mind, hopefully you can find an attorney who fits your needs.  If not, keep looking!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for my Divorce?

Divorce is rarely easy or pleasant.  In most cases, trying to get divorced without an attorney is harder or has a worse outcome.  Lawyers can be expensive, but not having one when you need one is potentially FAR more expensive.

Here's a brief answer to the headline question.

When You Need a Divorce Lawyer:
  • When you have kids.  Some of the worst post-divorce headaches come from disputes over the children.  Child support needs to be calculated correctly and ordered precisely so that the obligation is clear and enforceable.  Visitation/possession periods need to be clear and specific.  General language won't be enforceable and vague language will lead to disputes.
  • When one spouse is domineering.  That can be physically, emotionally, or financially.  Where one spouse can demand and get whatever he or she wants, the other spouse needs a lawyer to help equalize the power in the negotiations.
  • When there are assets or liabilities.  Normally, there will be assets and liabilities that have to be divided between the parties.  The division is not automatically 50-50.  It can significantly favor one party over the other if there is a big difference in income or income earning potential, or if a party has health issues, or if any of a number of other factors exist.  Plus, some assets are overlooked if the parties don't have legal experience or understand how the law applies to their situation.
When You Don't Need a Divorce Lawyer:
  • When you have a very short marriage.
  • When there are no assets, liabilities or children.
Those circumstances are rare in divorce cases.  Usually, people stay together long enough to acquire things or children before deciding to pull the plug.

The bottom line is that you almost always need a divorce lawyer, if you want to get things done right.

The answer to the title question is -- Yes!