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What happens if a spouse cannot afford a divorce lawyer?

Having a lawyer is often extremely helpful during divorce. Issues like child custody, visitation, spousal support and property division can be very complex. It can be challenging for someone who doesn't have legal experience to adequately represent himself or herself during a divorce settlement negotiation. Negotiations can be even more challenging when the two spouses aren't able to communicate or negotiate in a civil or productive manner. An experienced and skilled divorce attorney can help an individual navigate those challenges.

Sometimes, though, an individual may not be able to afford legal representation. In those instances, the individual may have a few options available. One route is to try to settle any custody and visitation issues in family court before filing for divorce. The court could decide on a custody and visitation schedule for the two parents. Then that ruling could be incorporated into the subsequent divorce. With custody and visitation already decided, there are far less issues on the table and the cost of the attorney may be much less.

Also, low-income individuals may qualify for a court appointed attorney. A court-appointed attorney would only handle custody, visitation and any necessary orders of protection. He or she wouldn't handle division of property or spousal support. Another popular route is to ask the court to order the wealthier of the two spouses to pay for the other spouse's legal fees. A judge may be willing to do this if he or she believes that it is the only way that the spouse could be fairly represented in court.

If such an order were issued, the wealthier spouse would likely pay the attorney directly as the divorce was in process. He or she would also have to pay for any supporting experts or tests needed. It's possible that the paying spouse could challenge the order, in which case the spouse in need of payment help would need to make their case in court. An experienced divorce attorney could consult with an individual and help them determine the best way to fund their divorce process.

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