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Michigan Family Law Blog

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What Happens If I Cannot Afford an Attorney to Get Custody of my Child?

When you need legal help to get or keep custody of your child, you might be worried about how you will pay the legal fees for the court battle. Depending on the issues of your custody dispute and how litigious the other parent is, the cost of fighting your child’s other parent could be substantial.

Michigan law does not force you to hire a lawyer to advocate for you, but a Michigan child custody attorney could help even the playing field, particularly if the other party has a lawyer. It can help to know your options, so here is an overview of what happens if you cannot afford an attorney to get custody of your child.

Ask the Judge to Order the Other Parent to Pay Your Legal Fees

Judges do not automatically order one parent to pay the legal fees of the other parent in a custody dispute, but sometimes the judge will enter an order like that in the interest of fairness. Your lawyer can assess the likelihood of the judge granting a request for attorney fees in your case.

The judge will evaluate several factors when deciding whether to award attorney fees. Here are some of the elements the judge could consider in a custody battle in which one parent asks the other parent to pay the legal fees:

  • The earnings of the parties. Let’s say that one parent is a surgeon and earns $650,000 a year, while the other parent is a nurse who earns $60,000 a year. With this disparity of earnings, the judge might order the surgeon parent to pay the fees of the parent who is a nurse.
  • The income of the parents. Income can be unearned, for example, when one parent is a “trust fund baby” who receives a significant amount of money every year from the trust.
  • The assets of the parties. If one parent could easily pay the legal fees of both parties out of liquid assets, like a checking, savings, or money market account, that parent might get ordered to contribute to the legal fees of the other parent.
  • Whether one party has “unclean hands.” Some people put the other parent of their child through as much grief as possible, often using the courts to do so. If one parent has harassed the other party through multiple motions or lawsuits, the court might make the parent pay the other party’s legal fees.
  • Unclean hands can also be a situation in which the party’s bad conduct, such as child abuse, caused the custody dispute.

Other Options

If asking the judge to order the other parent to pay your legal fees is not a viable option for you, you might try to handle your case as a “pro se” litigant, in other words, without an attorney. You will still have to know and follow all of the rules that a lawyer must follow. Your case could get dismissed if you miss a deadline or make another type of mistake.

Legal aid organizations might help, but they often avoid family law cases. Some charitable organizations offer limited legal services on a sliding fee scale, meaning that the less money you make, the lower your legal fees will be.

A Michigan child custody attorney can explain the options that could be a good fit for you in your situation, including the possibility of asking the judge to order the other parent to pay your legal fees. Contact us today.


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