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How to Obtain Limited-Scope Legal Assistance for Your Divorce

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The Limited-Scope Consult

Popular perception has it that an initial consultation with a divorce attorney is merely an opportunity to learn about fees and services. But Debbie Weecks, a limited-scope attorney from Sun City, Arizona, says there's no reason why the initial consultation can't “be several hours long with an express understanding that the attorney's role is limited to offering advice both procedurally and substantively based upon the information the client is able to provide.”

You Can Do It!

If you are embarking upon divorce and haven't had legal input, this single session of legal advice can prove invaluable. Be sure to bring a checklist of any items or issues you'd like to cover to make sure no concern is overlooked.

The initial divorce consultation might be all you need to get through the rest of the divorce procedure on your own. “Interview and advice services may be the only ones a limited-service lawyer provides to a client,” according to the American Bar Association. “The attorney-client relationship begins at the start of the interview and ends when it is over.” In other words, the interview and advice (as opposed to mere information) comprise a discrete unit of legal work. While full-service attorneys often provide the initial consultation for free, as just the beginning of a long relationship, limited-scope lawyers virtually always charge at this point—it is often the first and last time the client will walk through the door.

The limitedservice lawyer could, for instance, give you preventive advice. Let's say you anticipate a custody battle and fear your spouse might run off with your child; in a single session with a knowledgeable attorney, you might learn how to file a motion requesting an emergency custody order and a requirement for your spouse to turn over his or her passport. Even if you have no money, you might be surprised how much emotional and financial risk you face when your marriage ends. A limited-scope attorney will keep you informed: Do you know how to protect your credit rating, not to mention your level of future debt, from a spouse on a spending spree? Are you aware that if you use your newly inherited money—no matter how small the amount—to pay household bills or if you combine it with marital monies in any way, it might become community property in some states?

Perhaps you are furious because your spouse is preventing you from seeing your daughter or son? A common assumption is that visitation is somehow tied to child support payments—no kid on Sunday, no money for your soon-to-be ex on Monday, regardless of what the judge ordered. The limited-scope attorney will quickly set you straight, letting you know in no uncertain terms that those issues are generally unrelated under the law, but by withholding payment, you risk not just child-support arrearages but criminal charges as well. On the other hand, if you continue to make the payments, you can correct the visitation situation pro se—with the attorney's behind-the-scenes advice.

In fact, if your rights are being violated in any way, the limited-service lawyer can tell you how to select and complete a simplified complaint form, request an order of default or evidentiary hearing, prepare and present the required testimony, and obtain a final order and judgment. Believe it or not, if your issues aren't outrageously tangled and messy, all of this can be accomplished in a single session, in the course of an afternoon. Depending on your city, you might be asked to pay the limited-scope attorney up to $250 an hour for his legal advice. This may sound like a lot, but the savings—not just in money but also heartache—could be immense.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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