(Why I will do a default divorce for less than $1000)
At the State Bar Convention this last summer, we had a session on the high cost of lawsuits, ability to retain lawyers, and the general problem that lawyers are available to the rich and the poor – but not the vast majority who fit in between those two stations. Within the legal community, we call this “Access to Justice”, and it’s a serious problem.
Approximately 14% of the residents of Maricopa County can qualify for free legal aid. This is a little higher than the rest of the country, as parts of the metro area are still in recovery from the economic crash. On the other end of the spectrum, only 5% of the people can afford to pay an attorney the average hourly rate of $250/hr, without going into debt. This leaves 80% of the people of this county, stuck with few options for getting legal help: they can represent themselves without help and risk making a serious mistake in court, or they can go into debt and possible bankruptcy by hiring a lawyer. As a Family Law Attorney, I know the risks of representing yourself, particularly when the other side has a lawyer working for them. But if I’m asking for a $5000 retainer up-front, only 5% of the population are going to benefit from my counsel without going into debt, even if this could be a simple default matter.
A lot of people seeking legal help will then turn to a Document Preparer to help with their divorce paperwork. While many of these services will get your divorce completed, they are not permitted to give out any legal advice about what you should do. A default divorce between two people with no children is a relatively simple task – if you know what you are doing. If you DO NOT know what you are doing, you can leave yourself in a very bad position as far as your property rights and taxes go. If there are children, it gets more complex, and if you fail to consider all of the rights and responsibilities, it makes co-parenting a much harder job. These are issues that are more about getting help making decisions, based on your rights and responsibilities – this is Legal Advice, and you need it. You need to talk to a Lawyer, before things get complicated.
I have written other articles about how there are ways to keep these costs down, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We, as Lawyers, must be a part of the solution to the problem of access to justice. This is why my services in default family matters is priced at the same amount as Doc Preppers charge. Everyone going through a divorce needs some advice, and Lawyers have a responsibility to assist the 80% in the middle, even if it’s just through consultation rather than full representation.
As attorneys, it’s time we take a look at our prices. Not all matters are the same, and we shouldn’t be stuck on a fixed rate for everything. Many other professions use a sliding scale, and alter their bill rate based on what the client is capable of paying. We have a responsibility to the public at large to promote justice and a more civil society. A big part of that responsibility, is making sure that more people can talk to lawyers without fear of big bills.
I believe in Access to Justice. The Potter Law Firm will get you through it.
We know that word-of-mouth and referrals are the BEST types of advertising for small businesses/professional services. We sincerely appreciate each client testimonial from the past few months.
“I still can’t believe how well we lucked out with our referral to Potter Law Firm. My only regret is that we didn’t hire him sooner! Mr. Potter’s concern for our family is reflected in both in his words and his actions. He has navigated our case through the court system at a pace I didn’t think was possible, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I’m fairly certain we’ll be keeping Mr. Potter on a retainer until our daughter is eighteen (and while that is a depressing
“I am pleased with the outcome in the hearing yesterday and it gives me hope that this will be settled soon. Thank you for your time and support. You have really changed my outlook of the court system and attorneys in whole. I wish all attorneys had your mindset, Mr. Potter. You and Lisa make a great team and I appreciate all of your help.” – Veronica H. 8/18/15
“I wasn’t sure what type of law Mr. Potter practices but asked him questions related to my PI case. I discovered that although he doesn’t actively handle PI cases, he helped connect me with a Personal Injury Expert who answered all of my questions and gave me sound advice. Thank you for helping me and getting back so quickly, Mr. Potter. I really appreciate it.” – Vani P. 8/15/15
A Modest Means Project Client Testimonial: “First we would like to thank you so very much for meeting with us. On such short notice to top it off. We felt very comfortable and not rushed at all. Thank you for listening and giving us the best advice we have received.” Ashley C. 7/24/15
“Mr. Potter did a wonderful job handling my divorce case even with coming in the middle of it. He and his team picked things up like they had been on board from day one, and got things moving in the right direction. They are very professional and yet friendly when dealing with such an emotional process. They made sure I understood my options every step of the way and kept me up to date on what was going on with my case. I highly recommend Potter Law Firm for any family law case.” – Rob G. 7/15/15
“Mr. Potter is an amazing attorney. I am currently utilizing him as a lawyer in a court case I have going on right now. Mr. Potter takes time out to explain, walk through, and describe how everything
“Known Mr Potter for many years. As i finish with my military career and return to Arizona he will be my attorney of choice for all my legal needs.” – Mike R. 6/30/15
The Potter Law Firm brings access to justice for regular people. We know that 80% of people think they cannot afford quality legal representa
Before I began a sole practice in earnest, I worked a contract for the Arizona Dept. of Child Safety – more often known by their former letters: CPS. It’s close to the IRS for most maligned state agency (although the National Security Agency is trying), and like the IRS, it’s a necessity. I still don’t know the inner workings of the tax collectors, but my 9 months inside DCS gave me an insight to how the agency works, and the people who do a very hard and often thankless job. I’ve also had a view of the failings and flaws in their work. Now that my work there is done, I want to address a rare but dangerous problem: false reporting.
DCS exists to protect children from dangerous environments created directly by, or due to the neglect of, the parents or guardians of the child. This power to take a child away from the parents is in constant tension with the parents rights over and to their own child. No one is happy to have a government official take away anything of theirs, but to take away a child leaves parents scared and desperate. Often, these are temporary custody situations, where the child is placed with a relative guardian while the danger is assessed, and often returned to the parents. Many times, this danger is from drugs, and DCS provides rehab, counseling, and resources for parents who need help.
Let me assure you – there are very dangerous situations for children in the city of Phoenix, and there are parents whose behavior would terrify you. The people inside DCS all know how bad it can be – and whenever a child dies while under DCS investigation, every single employee of the agency is sent an email of what happened. It’s a constant reminder of what is at stake. Yet with so much riding on this, DCS budgets are always on the chopping block – case managers and parent aids are stretched thin and over-worked. Our new governor, Doug Ducey, has promised to cut the budgets further, leaving more children in danger, and fewer investigators to work on cases.
Although it is rare, sometimes these investigations are triggered by one of the parents against the other parent, during or after divorce, without a legitimate basis. The intent is often to use a DCS case to influence a custody outcome in family court – to move the ball closer to the goal. Sometimes this is done after a divorce, as part of a strategy to petition the court for a change in custody – and other times it’s done while a divorce is pending.
I’ve spent time preparing court documents in these cases, and it doesn’t work. A report can trigger an investigation, but the process will uncover a false report over substantial danger to a child. This discovery will be reported to the judge and any court appointed advisors in the family law case – in other words, it’s going to cause a lot of pain, expense, trauma for the entire family, and will mostly likely backfire. Filing a false report with DCS is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-707, 13-802.) I’ve seen this happen.
The greater tragedy is that each false report takes attention away from real danger to children in frightening circumstances. As resources are stretched thin, the time it takes to uncover a false report drains the time and budget that should be used on cases where there is an ongoing danger to the child’s physical or emotional well being. DCS is there for the children of this state, not to be a used as a tool for parents working out their anger. Additionally, a DCS investigation won’t just stop once it’s been started, so the children will also be dealing with investigations, examinations, case workers asking them a lot of questions, and you ultimately run the risk of having the child removed from both parents, and placed into foster care.
If you are in a divorce, or have an existing custody agreement, and you have problems with the other parent – how they live or who they live with – there are other options. Mediation is a way parents can work through problems without court involvement. Private mediators can find resolutions for a lower cost than court involvement, and they can do it faster – which saves in the emotional costs to you and the children. Look into mediation before doing something you may regret. Think twice before filing a false report with DCS.
REMINDER: Mediators are NOT certified in Arizona – so ask about your mediator’s background and training. Are they knowledgeable in child issues? Are they a licensed attorney? Do they have a behavioral health background? Some conflicts are more about legal issues, and some are more about the psychology of the parents – so choose the right mediator for the problem. I am a Texas certified mediator with a high resolution rate in both civil and family matters. Contact the Potter Law Firm, we can help.
-Trail T. Potter, Esq.