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It should come as no surprise to most Americans that divorce is becoming increasingly popular across the United States: currently, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that as many as 50% of all marriages entered into today will end in divorce, with the average marriage lasting eight years. Because of this, it is more likely than ever that the average person will have to hire a family law lawyer at some point in their lives to help them negotiate the various components of a legal separation.
Unfortunately, many low and middle income individuals may be unable to afford family law attorneys, which may put them at risk of losing custody of their children, having to make payments they cannot afford, or other troubling situations. For this reason, a Georgia non-profit organization has specifically opened a family and divorce law firm for those who many not qualify for legal aid but still cannot afford an attorney.
The Georgia Law Firm for the Homeless, an organization that provides free legal services to the homeless, has now opened a separate family law firm for low and middle income people who cannot afford legal help. Called the Georgia Law Center, the firm plans to charge between $50 and $75 an hour to work with their family law lawyers, depending on the income of their client. In addition to providing a needed service, the fees gathered will help the non-profit subsidize their costs. Currently, their aim is to use the funds to hire additional paid attorneys to help with their existing caseload.
Given the condition of income levels in Georgia, this service will likely be extremely beneficial to many people in the area: in 2008, a study found that 91% of state residents with low to moderate incomes (defined as less than $60,000 for a family of four) did not obtain legal help for their civil cases. This is likely because of the cost: these people would likely not qualify for legal aid and would be unable to afford the full price of hiring a family law lawyer. And while several years have passed since the report was taken, this pattern has since begun to repeat itself in other states, making it unlikely this problem has been resolved.
The Georgia Law Center reports that it is now one of the only legal nonprofits in the state to offer paid services in addition to its core pro bono mission. This is because the service relates to their overall mission: because the low-cost legal assistance is connected to their goal of providing legal help to needy Georgians, the organization is allowed to maintain their tax-free nonprofit status while helping to support their organization without relying heavily on donations. While the new law firm is beginning with small steps, they have already taken on 15 cases of low and middle income clients who were unable to afford a regularly-priced divorce lawyer.
For those struggling to afford legal services outside of the state of Georgia, however, proper research and determination are still key to finding affordable legal help. If you are worrying about your ability to pay for a lawyer, the best thing you can do is look at your budget, figure out what you can afford, and plan ahead: bear in mind that proceedings like divorces can take as long as a year to completely resolve. From there, you can begin to research lawyers in your area. However, whatever you do, don’t try to defend yourself: as costly as a family law lawyer may seem, an unfair settlement can cost you far more in the long run.
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