Do You Qualify for a Pro Bono Attorney?

Close up of desk and documents as lawyer and client discuss - Pro bono attorney concept

At NSSSB, we understand that not everyone can afford to hire a family law attorney to stand beside them every step of the way from preparing to file a complaint to completing a divorce trial. While we make giving our clients full service a priority, we also understand that sometimes you need to keep the budget in mind. When money is tight, you may wonder whether you qualify for a pro bono attorney or free legal aid.

Are There Pro Bono Family Lawyers?

Anybody who has watched a crime drama in the last twenty years knows that “you have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for you at public expense.” But that’s in criminal court. There is no right to free legal counsel in a divorce or family law case. You have the right to be represented by an attorney, but generally that is someone you hire yourself. Michigan law allows judges to order one spouse to pay the other spouse’s legal fees in some cases. However,there just may not be enough money to go around. In those cases, you may need to rely on pro bono family lawyers who work for legal services organizations in your county.

Where to Find Pro Bono Attorneys Near You

Having a lawyer by your side during the divorce process can help you resolve your case more quickly, and keep you from making mistakes that will cost you time, money, and frustration after the judgment is entered. If you live in Ann Arbor or Southeast Michigan and cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may be able to qualify for free or reduced cost legal aid through one of the following programs:

Other programs are available in other parts of the state. You can find a legal aid clinic near you and get substantive legal information through the State Bar of Michigan’s access to justice initiative, called A Lawyer Helps.

How to Qualify for Legal Aid Services

Generally, you cannot retain a pro bono attorney by going directly to the law firm and asking for free legal advice. Instead, you need to go through a screening process at a legal aid clinic. Pro bono services are generally only offered to households earning up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. Each clinic may have its own additional criteria to qualify for legal aid services through their program. Once you complete the screening and qualify for aid, your case will be referred to a cooperating family law attorney for free or low-cost legal services.

Low-Cost Divorce Alternatives If You Don’t Qualify for Legal Aid

If you make too much to qualify for legal aid services, there are other ways that you can minimize the cost of your divorce. Many amicable divorce options, including kitchen-table agreements, early mediation and uncontested divorce, can help parties who are able to separate the emotional from the business aspects of their divorce dissolve their marriages without lengthy and expensive court battles.

Where a peaceful resolution is less likely, you can also retain an attorney for “limited scope representation.” Under this option, you hire a lawyer to help you with just the parts of the divorce where you need help. The law firm can prepare documents for you, provide you consultation and advice, or represent you only on a single issue or at a single court hearing. By “unbundling” the legal services offered, you can control the budget for your attorney fees and make sure you can get the advice you need at a price you can afford.

At NSSSB, we know how important legal aid and pro-bono services are to Michigan families. Our Ann Arbor divorce attorneys volunteer to work with various law clinics and legal aid offices throughout the state. If you are worried about affording your legal fees, we will connect you with legal aid clinics in your area, and help you consider low-cost divorce alternatives to suit your case. Click here to schedule a consultation with our divorce team.