Being unable to afford an attorney during your divorce could put you at a disadvantage – especially if your spouse has already hired one. A San Francisco divorce lawyer can be of great help during a divorce case, guiding you through complex legal processes and family laws in California. If you cannot afford one, however, you have other options. You may be able to get the money you spend on a lawyer back as part of your divorce settlement, or else find an alternative to traditional legal representation that costs less.
Try for a Settlement
The first option you should consider if you know you cannot afford a San Francisco divorce lawyer is trying to compromise with your spouse to reach a divorce settlement between the two of you. You don’t need an attorney to resolve your divorce via settlement. You and your spouse can work together to settle matters, such as how to divide property and schedule parenting plans.
Try to approach the process with an open mind. Compromise with your spouse as much as possible on items that matter to him or her and items that matter to you. Your spouse may be willing to leave you the house, for example, if you offer to take on the debts you accrued together during the marriage. Working together could help you avoid a complex, contested divorce case that requires legal representation.
List Attorney’s Fees as Part of Your Divorce Demands
It may be possible to request reimbursement for your legal costs and attorney’s fees from your spouse if you cannot afford the lawyer yourself. The judge may order your spouse to pay for your legal fees if you make this request from the beginning of your case. If your spouse intentionally did something to make it more difficult to resolve your divorce case, such as hiding assets, and this is why you needed an attorney, you may also qualify for sanctions. Sanctions are payments your spouse might owe you during a divorce case as punishment for misconduct that made the divorce more difficult than it otherwise would have been.
Consider Legal Coaching
If you cannot afford to hire a divorce lawyer, consider an alternative that costs less than full-service legal representation: legal coaching. Legal coaching gives you counsel from a licensed family law attorney, but you take care of many of the legal processes yourself to save money on attorney’s fees. Many law firms offer legal coaching as an alternative to full representation during a divorce case. Find a firm that is willing to charge you only for the services it provides rather than its typical fees for taking on a full case (called unbundled legal services). The lawyer may only charge for specific services, a la carte style.
Discuss your needs with a lawyer that offers legal coaching for divorce cases in California. List the services you want the lawyer to take care of, such as document preparation or representing you during a divorce trial. Find out if the lawyer offers these services unbundled, and if so, how much the fees will cost. Let the attorney know your budget and what you can afford to spend on legal coaching. The right attorney will work with you to create a legal coaching relationship at the right price.
Try to Find a Lawyer Who Will Work Pro Bono
It may be possible to find a free divorce lawyer, or one who will take your case pro bono, in California. If you know you cannot afford a divorce attorney through a fee arrangement, search for federally funded programs that offer subsidized legal services. Your income level might qualify you for these services. You could also try to find pro bono representation through your state bar association. Many attorneys grant pro bono divorce representation to individuals based on financial need. A pro bono lawyer could give you all the benefits of legal representation without the legal bill.