What Happens if I Can’t Afford my Legal Fees?
Reports are surfacing regarding George Zimmerman’s financial standing amid his current divorce action against his wife, Shellie Zimmerman. Shellie filed for divorce from George in September 2013, two months after he was controversially acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. According to documents recently filed in Florida, George is claiming he is unemployed and broke, yet lists his total assets as $14,000.00. Included in his financial affidavit, the defendant states his monthly expenses as $3,304.00, and his legal fund is all but depleted.
George finds himself in the same predicament that many divorcing couples face: the inability to afford their mounting legal fees. While situations such as this may feel hopeless to some, a lack of funds is not (and should not be) a reason to not file for divorce, or to settle prematurely. The New York State Unified Court System has a plethora of legal resources that help NY residents find free or low cost legal aid, as well as assistance in filing cases pro se. For those who are already in a court battle with their estranged spouse, it is possible to have the court issue an order that directs the other spouse to pay all legal fees associated with the action.
Under Domestic Relations Law § 273, a party to a divorce action can petition for the courts to grant an order requiring their financially superior spouse to cover their legal costs. In order for a non-moneyed spouse to receive funds for legal fees, the moneyed spouse must fail at proving to the court that the other party is financially able to afford their hired representation. Typically, legal fees will be awarded to a non-working spouse who is unemployed due to an illness or disability, or a stay-at-home parent. In addition, legal fees can be granted to a working spouse who proves their salary is significantly less than the other party in the action. It is important to note that the amount of legal fees awarded varies on a case by case basis, and it is not always guaranteed that a judge will order the moneyed spouse to pay their ex’s legal bill in its entirety. Additionally, it is still possible to receive funds for your attorney’s fees while also being granted Pendente Lite support.
Since it is never guaranteed that a judge will award a petitioning party legal fees, the staff at Brian D. Perskin & Associates, P.C., strongly advises that client’s carefully read and understand their retainer agreements. Retainer agreements outline how much a client will pay for their case, and can be either flat fee, flat fee with cost of additional court appearances, or simply billed per hour. Retainers vary from law firm to law firm, but most attorneys are sympathetic to financially strapped divorce or family law clients, and are willing to work out a payment plan. Discuss potential payment plans with an attorney before hiring them, so you can have a plan of action in place in case a judge does not grant your request for your legal fees to be paid by your spouse.
For more information, or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact either Mr. Perskin or one of his experienced Associates at (646) 791-3228 or (718) 875-7584 today!