Typically, when you are going through a divorce or other family law matter, you have four primary options for getting help from an attorney: 

  • (1) a free community/legal aid clinic, 
  • (2) a single consultation, 
  • (3) limited scope advisement, or 
  • (4) full scope representation. 

You should also keep in mind that you can also do your own divorce or family law matter, without any professional legal assistance, but we don’t recommend that. These sorts of legal issues can be complicated and high risk. For example, there is a lot of court discretion when it comes to dividing assets and debts, or awarding spousal support, or setting up a shared parenting schedule. This means it is best to talk with a professional and strategize regarding the best way to present particular issues to a Judge. When you are going to court or potentially going to court regarding your life savings or your child, the stakes are high. It is always best to get at least some professional legal advice from a licensed attorney as you go through this process. 

Here are your primary four options to engage in legal advice with an attorney: 

Option 1: A free community/legal aid clinic

Often, there are local or state-run legal aid or community legal clinics and organizations that provide the public with free legal advice or representation. The biggest upside to this kind of assistance is that it is free. The downside is that there is usually very limited assistance and funding available, and you will have to wait your turn. You will have a low chance of receiving full representation in your legal matter using these clinics and organizations. Additionally, sometimes this service is only available if you are low income.  Some examples in Clark County, Washington (where I practice law) are: In some counties there are sliding scale (reduced rate) options available as well. For example, in Multnomah County, Oregon there is a non-profit called the Commons Law Center.

Option 2: A single consultation

A consultation is just a one-time initial meeting with an attorney. It is in your best interests to do at least one consultation with an attorney about your divorce or other family law issue. The consultation will typically be a one-time flat fee meeting with an attorney, usually lasting about an hour, where you will briefly explain your situation, and the attorney will give you a brief rundown of your options for legal help moving forward as well as a road map of your next steps. The typical cost for a consultation will range between $100 – $300. 

The consultation is an underutilized option for people needing legal advice in a divorce or other family law situation. There are no strings attached to this meeting. If you do the consultation there is no obligation that you have to hire the attorney moving forward, and you will usually walk away with a wealth of knowledge uniquely provided for your situation. This is a great way to get very good advice on a budget. You would simply call or email the attorney’s office to schedule it. 

Situations that can benefit from a single consultation:

  • Your divorce forms have been rejected by the court, and you want to figure out why and how to fix them.
  • You need a divorce strategy and want to avoid costly mistakes.
  • You want to confirm whether you have a strong claim or defense in your case.
  • You need help with a child support or spousal support calculation.
  • You want to understand your best/worst case scenario before you start mediation.
  • If you want to know the general steps to follow in order to start and complete your divorce case.
  • You need temporary orders because your spouse cut you off from finances or your kids.
  • You have “odd” facts in your case, and you aren’t sure how those might factor into the final outcome of your case.
  • Your ex made a settlement offer and you want a lawyer to review it and provide advice.
  • Your divorce is “stuck” and you want help finalizing the legal matter.

Option 3: Limited scope advisement

This is an option where you are fully representing yourself in a legal action, but you hire an attorney to privately coach you continually throughout. This is a great option for people who want expert advice as they move along the process but want to spend less money. Again, in this option you are representing yourself (i.e. the attorney does not act on your behalf or represent you), but the attorney can work with you through on-going emails, phone calls, meetings, help you with all your paperwork, give you instructions and provide on-going strategic advice. 

Typically, the attorney will require you to start with a consultation so they can size up your situation to ensure that limited scope advisement would be appropriate given your facts and circumstances. 

Situations that can benefit from limited scope advisement:

  • You generally feel like you know what to do and know what you want the outcome to be, but you just want a little bit of on-going advice to make sure you don’t mess it up along the way. 
  • If you and your ex are amicable and mostly agree, but you want to make sure you are doing each step correctly and your paperwork is accurate. 
  • If you have a complicated or dramatic situation but you don’t have a lot of funds to spend on legal help – consistent limited advice with an attorney will usually put you lightyears ahead of where you would have been without it. 
  • You and your ex have been negotiating just between the two of you (without attorneys), but you want professional advice without making your ex feel defensive or like you are “lawyering up”. Having an attorney privately coach you in the background can achieve your goal and keep tensions low.  

Option 4: Full scope representation 

This option is what people typically think of when they picture hiring an attorney to assist them. Full scope representation is where you hire an attorney to fully represent you and act on your behalf in a legal matter. They essentially do everything in your legal matter, such as, appear for you in court, negotiate on your behalf, all communication with the opposing party, court, or other third parties, etc. This option is the best and most comprehensive way to get through your legal matter. The downside is that it can be very expensive (particularly if you are in active litigation, i.e. actively fighting with the other party). The total cost will always depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your situation. 

If you are looking to hire an attorney to represent you in full scope capacity, it is most likely that you will start by having a consultation with the attorney. They will need to understand the issues involved before they can explain what needs to be done and estimated cost for full scope representation. Typically, if you hire an attorney for full scope representation, you will be billed at an hourly rate for their time. Additionally, the attorney will usually require a larger retainer (usually a few thousand dollars) to be paid up front before they begin work – the attorney usually takes draws from the retainer based on time and fees earned as you move along in the process. 

You have options. 

When you are facing a family law legal problem keep in mind that you have options for getting professional legal advice. Don’t be discouraged. Family law legal issues can be very scary, all consuming and overwhelming. It is in your best interest to not bury your head in the sand and get some advice from an attorney about how to proceed. It is always the right call to get that professional advice, and it’s up to you how best to accomplish it. 

Navigate Law Group has several very experienced family law attorneys who are here to assist and protect your interests. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact us today!

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.