What Should You Do If You Cannot Afford a Divorce Lawyer?

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If you are considering divorce or you were served with divorce papers, one of the first things you should do is hire an attorney. Even if you and your spouse agree on all issues, it is a good idea to get legal advice. An attorney can explain the divorce process, financial issues, child custody and your rights and obligations under New York law to ensure you understand what you may be entitled to before you sign a settlement agreement. If needed, your lawyer will also advocate on your behalf in negotiations and in court. Since you should obtain legal help, what do you do if you cannot afford a divorce lawyer?

Who Pays Divorce Lawyers?

Parties can use marital funds to pay their respective divorce lawyers. If one spouse does not have access to marital funds because the other spouse has blocked them, ideally, they should negotiate an agreement for temporary spousal support and counsel fees to hire an attorney. If an agreement cannot be reached, the spouse requiring funds can apply to the court asking it to order temporary support and payment of interim attorney fees.

Under New York law, there is a legal presumption that the monied spouse will pay attorney fees for the less-monied spouse to hire an attorney of equal caliber. This helps ensure the less-monied spouse is not at a disadvantage in the divorce action. 

Where both parties earn income, the court will weigh their relative income and assets to determine how much to award the lesser-earning spouse.

What If You Need More Money Than What Was Awarded to You?

If additional funds are required for legal fees, you can apply to the court for more money. However, the court will ask for documentation showing how the prior funds were spent to determine whether awarding more attorney fees is justified. Typically, this means providing copies of billing statements. These records should be redacted so as not to reveal privileged information while providing the court with sufficient, non-priviliged information regarding your legal representation to justify an additional award.

The court system wants to ensure each spouse is properly represented in divorce and will require the higher-earning spouse to pay. However, the court won’t order support without a formal request.

If you are considering divorce, contact us for a consultation to discuss how we can help you get the best result in your case.

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