This post is the third in a five part series on questions you should ask your divorce attorney before you sign on the dotted line. Check out Part I here and Part II here – and look forward to Parts IV and V in the next few days.
QUESTION 3: WHAT IF I RUN OUT OF MONEY AND CANNOT PAY AN ATTORNEY?
Imagine it: you have hired an attorney, plopped down the several thousand dollar retainer fee and you are feeling confident and secure in the future of your case. Then, a few weeks later, you get your first bill. You realize how truly expensive it can be to have an attorney represent and you see that a huge chunk of your retainer has been spent. A month later, little money is left. A month after that, you receive a bill a realize you owe your attorney money. Panic sets in. Despite the warnings form your attorney, you figured (or hoped) your case would be cheap and easy. If you haven’t spoken to your attorney about this scenario, you haven’t adequately prepared yourself for the sticker shock that often occurs during the first few months of representation.
Because every divorce case is different, some clients end up in a much lengthier and expensive divorce than they expected. At times, clients are unable to keep up with their bill and fall behind in payment. Depending on the divorce lawyer, this can affect how your case is handled. Find out how your perspective attorney handles these situations. Does he/she allow you to make payments over time? Does he/she accept credit card payments, which allows a client the opportunity to pay over time? Does he/she stop representing a client if the client owes them money? Does he/she send her clients to collections? Does he/she charge late fees?
It is important to have this conversation before the situation arises, so that both you and the attorney are on the same page. One of the worst things that can happen in a divorce is for a client to run out of money part way through and be left without an attorney. In that case, you’ve paid an attorney to get you part of the way through, but not to the light at the end of the tunnel. If the advance deposit is the only money you are going to be able to put towards the case, perhaps you should explore the options discussed in Part I of this series.