A contested divorce or custody case is expensive. Sometimes clients do not have enough money on hand to pay the required retainer and start the process. Adding to this problem is the fact that, in many marriages, one of the spouses has most of the access to and control of the community funds, at least at the start of the case. If you are wondering how to pay for your case, consider the following options:

Credit cards. For many people using their credit card is the easiest way to pay the retainer fee. The good news is many attorneys accept them. The other good news is that these expenses are normally considered a community cost that your spouse will share as part of the divorce.

Savings. If you have money put aside that you can access, this is a quick and easy way to pay to hire an attorney.

Family or friends. Many divorce clients will get help paying for an attorney through parents, grandparents or friends. Sometimes this help is in the form of a loan, and sometimes it is an outright gift. Remember that even if someone else pays your lawyer, you are the client. As the client are in charge of your case and you make all decisions. And the details of your case are confidential unless you decide to share them.

Retirement accounts. Some people choose to borrow from their retirement accounts to pay for an attorney. However, this can take some time and may be more complex than some of the other options. This route may also trigger early withdrawal penalties or other taxes.

Third-party loans. Clients sometimes apply through third-party loan sources to get money to finance their case. Some online lending marketplaces (such as Lending Tree) have an easy online application process that allows you to apply with multiple lenders at one time, gives you an answer quickly, and only requires a "soft pull" of your credit report that does not affect your credit score even if you are denied. 

Attorney funding (a bad idea). Some law firms allow the client to finance the case directly through the firm. At the Todd Law Firm, we do not loan money to clients for several reasons. We believe it is a conflict of interest for the lawyer working on your case to also be acting as your banker. If you fall behind, then the attorney becomes a reluctant debt collector, which causes aggravation for both the attorney and the client. You should want your attorney to be focusing their time and energy on getting the best outcome for your case, not chasing you for money.

Important note: planning ahead is key. Since divorce and custody cases are expensive, it makes sense to plan the financing of your case in advance. Think about how you will pay for hiring an attorney and get access to as much funds as possible as early as possible to reduce the risk of running out of money in the middle of your case. At a minimum, decide where you will obtain the funds to replenish your case retainer each month. If you have a good idea how you're going to pay for your case before you start, you can focus on working with your lawyer to get the best possible outcome rather than worrying about how to pay for your lawyer.

David Todd
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Austin TX Family Law, Personal Injury and Eminent Domain Attorney