Minnesota's Family Law Blog

What If You Can’t Afford A Divorce Lawyer?

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Update: April 2024

With the economy slowing lately, it’s fairly common that I get several calls during the week from people seeking a divorce, but they say they can’t afford to hire a divorce and just want a few tips. I have to say I always chuckle and think what other profession can you call up and hope to get a few tips, for free? I am not sure how many other professions you can call and seek free advice, but that’s a topic for another day…

I normally chat for 15 minutes or so and consider it part of my pro bono duty for the week. If I can give a quick bit of help I will often try. But, it does lead to a more serious question, and that is, what can a person possibly hope to learn in a few quick minutes talking to a lawyer about concepts that take years to learn and can be tricky to even understand? (Example Schmitz Calculation, QDRO, Imputed Income to name a few)

While I do understand that a divorce can be expensive, I have to say that I think that people who call for a “quick question” are truly wasting their time. Most of the answers that I give on these telephone calls are already online (even on this blog!) and the person is not going to get any legal advice in those few minutes. You really can’t tell the court or a Judge that “I talked to a lawyer and he said…” it just doesn’t mean anything since it’s just an off the cuff answer.

Before you give up hope and click away, I want to help you with some ideas that I’ve come up with to help a person who truly can’t afford a lawyer.

NOTE: “Truly Can’t Afford” is the key phrase, I would say that a good portion of people can afford a divorce lawyer they just don’t want to.

I can’t blame them! If you have the choice between taking the wife and kids to Disney World or paying the same amount to talk to a lawyer over 6-9 months it’s easy to see what any sane person would pick!

However, keep in mind divorces do not have to be as expensive as you think they are (see below for some tips) especially if consider say Realtors and if you’re willing to spend 5% on selling a house..wouldn’t you pay a fraction of that to deal with everything you own and your kids?!

I’m always shocked how many people call after they have done a divorce themselves and managed to make mistakes and when I ask what they earn they say “oh you know 70, 80, 100 thousand a year” and I think you are just crazy (some might say stupid) for not wanting to spend a few thousand dollars on this huge event in your life to do it right.

What If You REALLY Can’t Afford A Divorce?

With that said here are some tips that that I would suggest the person down can’t afford a divorce lawyer and wants/needs a divorce:

Get organized. Spend the time organizing all the debts, pull a credit credit report, list the assets, etc. But if you need to do it yourself or even hire a lawyer it really helps to be organized. I can’t tell you the exact cost saving but I can say that if you are extremely organized, you have the information and values and know what you want out of the divorce it will save a great deal of money.

Talk to family member about a loan. It may sound self-serving for a divorce lawyer to tell you to get a loan, but if you need a lawyer you’ll need money.

Be reasonable: The more unreasonable you are the more it will cost you in legal fees. What is reasonable? That is something that is hard to define, but one of the primary reasons divorce lawyers exist. It’s to give you the non-emotional advice that you need during this very emotional time in your life.

That’s the bottom line, and there is no better time to count on family then when you truly need them. If dear old Granny is getting older and getting ready to go to her reward soon and plans to leave you a “little something” maybe you would be best served to talk to her now, when you really need her assistance.

Don’t call and ask if the lawyer does “pro bono”. First, there is no legal requirement that Minnesota lawyers work for free. There is an aspirational goal that lawyers do some pro bono work each year, but with most lawyers graduating law school with well over $150,000 in debt and the starting lawyer salary in Minnesota at $62,000 a year, it’s unlikely that you can find a lawyer to just help you without some connection to them. 

You wouldn’t work for free for a stranger, you shouldn’t expect a lawyer to.

Call your local Legal Aid. Often times even if you don’t qualify for legal aid you can attend a divorce clinic where divorce lawyers will spend a day and help out legal aid. In our area legal aid is technically called Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, they do a great job and can often put you on a wait list for help.

Talk to your HR person. You’ll be surprised that your company may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will give you a significant discount lawyer.

We’ve been affiliated with Legal Shield for years now and I will say if you are a member and you ever need their services they will pay for themselves many times over. For example, my hourly rate is $400/hour. That is the rate I charge everyone, you the guy down the street, my cousin Steve. With the exception of Legal Shield where you get a 25% discount of that. That’s $100 hour you save! IF you need that program it’s a huge money saver.

Warning: there is a warning I wanted to say with EAP programs. For serious issues, divorces, criminal charges, etc. You want to avoid going with the type of program that pays for everything. The reason I say this is that some programs pay a lawyer a flat fee of, say, $3,000 for a divorce…all the way through trial! The obvious issue is that you won’t get a good lawyer (Heck, I might even argue a competent lawyer) to take a divorce trial for a flat fee of $3,000.

Also, you may be able to take a loan against your retirement 401(k)/pension, something a lot of people don’t think about but probably should if you need it.

The bottom line is try a few things before you either give up and sign whatever your ex gives you or try to do it yourself (although, there are a few instances where pro se divorce, that is not having a lawyer is no big deal).

Dive into mankatofamilylaw.com, but remember it’s not legal advice! While it’s chock-full of insights on Minnesota Family Law that might just blow your mind – or at least clear up a few legal mysteries. But remember, it’s not the same as actual legal advice. If you’re not in Minnesota, Mr. Kohlmeyer can’t be your legal knight in shining armor; he’s strictly Minnesota-bound. Got a local legal drama? Call 507-625-5000 to enlist Mr. Kohlmeyer’s expertise directly.

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Comments 3
  1. My friend is going through family court right now her ex-husband are soon to be ex-husband is rake in her through the goals he money she don’t he got temporary custody of the children and got thrown out of her house court is coming up again

  2. Great tip about getting lucky with pro bono cases. I need someone to defend my son in court. I’ll have to hire someone with good online reviews to help out.

  3. I like what you said about making sure you spend time organizing all of your debts. My wife and I are getting a divorce and need mediation for the splitting of assets. I’ll have to hire someone with good online reviews to help out.

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