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A legal battle for custody of your children can be an overwhelming and frightening experience. If money is tight, it can make an already difficult situation that much more stressful. However, even if your finances don't allow you to hire expensive representation, there are options.
This is where pro bono attorneys come into play. There are free child custody lawyers for fathers and mothers dealing with the issue of custody after a divorce, separation, or other extenuating circumstances. In fact, many large law firms expect their attorneys to volunteer a number of pro bono hours on an annual basis. Additionally, you can turn to legal aid offices, which are not-for-profit agencies that offer free legal counsel to those who can't afford a lawyer on their own.
If you're thinking of hiring a pro bono attorney, here are a few things to consider beforehand.
Can You Afford a Private Attorney?
Legal fees in a child custody matter can be extremely expensive. An attorney will expect to be paid hourly and will likely also require a significant retainer (a down payment towards legal fees incurred). Parents who cannot afford a private attorney have two main options: represent yourself (pro se, in legal terms) or request services from a pro bono attorney.
Does the Other Party Have an Attorney?
If you know that the person you'll be going up against in court has secured representation, it's probably best to hire a lawyer rather than represent yourself. It's basically leveling the playing field and it can make a big difference in court. They can articulate your needs in court, instead of you having to do it yourself. Plus, you won't have to worry about incurring the same high legal fees you would if you hired a private attorney.
Are You Comfortable With Your Attorney?
When choosing an attorney, it is extremely important that you are comfortable working with them. Due to the nature of pro bono services, some parents might think about compromising their own ideas and strategy for the custody matter in favor of the attorney's free services.
However, you'll want to be comfortable enough with an attorney to speak up and engage in an even exchange. It should be no different than any other lawyer and client relationship.
Is the Attorney Familiar with Family Law?
Corporate law departments generally sponsor and support pro bono programs. Therefore, you may find an attorney who normally practices corporate law, but decides to work on a family law project on the side. Although there's nothing wrong with this scenario, it's important to make sure that your lawyer is familiar with family law procedure. The goal is for the attorney to be well-prepared so there are no surprises in court. Additionally, if you seek counsel from a legal aid office, you'll want to be equally sure that whoever is representing you is the right person for the job by checking up on their experience.
Have You Done Your Research?
Working with a free child custody lawyer may be a great option for some parents, although it's a decision that should not be made lightly and that isn't for everyone. It's a good idea to spend some time researching any attorney and familiarizing yourself with how the courts work before you hire someone.
Consider interviewing all prospective attorneys and inquiring about their success in cases similar to yours that they've worked on in the past. You may also want to attend a court proceeding in advance to gain an understanding of how everything works. Additionally, you can talk to other parents about their experiences with pro bono attorneys in order to glean some wisdom from them before you make a decision.