For individuals needing legal assistance but who are low on funds and assets, a contingency-fee arrangement can seem like the ideal way to secure quality legal representation. In a contingency-fee arrangement, the client agrees to pay the attorney a portion or percentage of the value of the recovery the attorney is able to secure for the client. In most contingency-fee arrangements, the client is not obligated to pay any attorney’s fees to the attorney if he or she is unable to recover any award or compensation for the client (although there may be certain administrative fees or other case-related costs the client is still responsible for paying.)
Obtaining quality legal representation during a divorce may seem too costly for some individuals. Can Illinois attorneys accept divorce or family law cases on a contingency-fee basis?
No Contingency-Fee Agreements for Family Law or Divorce Cases
Unfortunately, the Illinois rules that govern attorney conduct prohibit attorneys from entering into contingency-fee arrangements for clients needing assistance with divorce and family law cases. The rules specifically prohibit these arrangements in “any domestic matter” wherein the fee is made contingent on the attorney securing a divorce for the client or securing child support, alimony, or a specific division of marital assets. In other words, it is unethical for a lawyer and client to agree to a fee arrangement wherein:
- The lawyer is paid a sum of money once a divorce for the client is finalized;
- The lawyer is paid one-quarter (or any other proportion) of the alimony or support award that the client may receive; or
- The lawyer is given some property that may be awarded to the client as part of the court’s property division orders.
Note that the rule does not prohibit contingency-fee arrangements where the attorney is being asked to assist the client in collecting past due support or alimony amounts pursuant to existing court orders. Thus, a contingency-fee arrangement is possible where the client is attempting to collect (for example) $5,000 of past due alimony.
What Options Do I Have if I Cannot Afford an Attorney?
Before you decide that you cannot afford an attorney to assist you in your divorce or family law matter, you should know that a court deciding such legal matters can award one spouse or the other attorney’s fees at the conclusion of the case and/or during the pendency of the case. The court has a great amount of discretion in making this order, and a spouse or parent whose relative income and assets are significantly less than the other party may have a good case for having such attorney’s fees awarded to him or her.
Do not disadvantage yourself in your divorce or family law case: speak with the skilled DuPage County family law attorneys at our law firm. We can assist you in determining your legal rights and in devising a strategy designed to best protect your interests. Contact our Oswego or Wheaton office today.