In our opinion, it is always preferable to have an attorney for “full representation”. Custody and divorce cases are lawsuits. A complaint is filed in the Superior Court. If an agreement is not reached, the case will go to trial. The rules of evidence apply. There are ‘discovery’ obligations, and complicated statutes and judicial decisions (“caselaw”) to be aware of. Mistakes can be costly even if an agreement is reached, and there are times when clearly the parties to the case should have full legal counsel. An attorney who files a ‘full’ appearance will go to court for all court events such as “short calendar” proceedings (which are rarely ‘short’), hearings, settlement conferences, and trial.
However the cost to hire full legal counsel in a custody or divorce case can be prohibitively expensive for some individuals. Some parties return to court repeatedly, making the process expensive. Each court appearance usually results in hourly billing. A party does not have direct control over the number of court appearances required, because their spouse may file multiple motions during the course of the proceeding, or even post-judgment. The party can feel that attorney fees are not being controlled, yet the attorney is ethically obligated to appear in court for each event, prepare for the event, and provide competent representation.
Consider these options when faced with a divorce or custody case:
1) Will a motion for attorney fees be successful? The motion can be filed, to request that the Court order the other party, to pay your attorney fees.
2) Is borrowing funds for an attorney an option? The Automatic Orders prohibit incurring unreasonable debt. These orders prohibit ‘encumbering’ property but they provide an exception for “reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with [the] action”.
3) Is “Standby Counsel” appropriate? When an attorney is hired as standby counsel, the attorney typically will not enter an “Appearance” in the case. Sometimes the attorney may file a “Limited Appearance”. When an attorney is hired as Standby Counsel, the individual represents himself or herself in Court. The attorney however can be retained to meet with the client from time to time, such as to give advice relating to procedural or other issues in the case. The attorney can review proposals that the parties might agree to among themselves. The attorney might assist with the preparation of certain court motions.
We encourage you to consider “Standby Counsel” if you feel you cannot afford an attorney.
Marder, Roberson & DeFelice Law Offices, LLC
76 South Frontage Road
Vernon, CT 06066