Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "
Attorney Pearsall, my name is Hector. I hired a divorce lawyer for Rhode Island family court to get me through all this legal stuff. Right now we are a month away from the trial date the judge specified. My attorney had been sending me some bills and I told him that I was good for them and that I always pay my bills. He told me that lawyers don't work that way and that he's had tons of people just skip out on him over the years without paying their bills. The bill really doesn't seem to be that much to me. Right now it's a bit over $4,500.00.
The attorney asked me to come in and talk to him about the bill but I told him I wouldn't because he would just bill me more for that meeting. Now he is telling me that I need to pay the outstanding balance and advance him monies for trial preparation otherwise he is going to withdraw on my case.
Just so you know, I went to another attorney and she told me that my attorney can't withdraw on me like that. She said that it's up to the judge as to whether my attorney is let out and with a trial date set it is not very likely that the judge will do it. She said that all I have to do is object.
What do you think? Can he withdraw just because I haven't paid my divorce bill so far?
Hector, I'm not sure what you are trying to do. Are you trying to get away without paying your bill? Or are you trying to get as many opinions as you can and then whichever legal opinion you get the most of is the right one?
Whatever your motives are I can suggest to you several things.
First, look at the written agreement you have with your attorney? Does it say that if you don't pay your bill that he can withdraw from the case? If so, some judges are going to take that into consideration.
Second, it is correct that your lawyer can't get out of the case without the judge allowing it.
Third, yes a judge can allow it for non-payment of your divorce bill even if there is a trial date set.
Not too long ago in 2009 there was a case that was right on point on this issue. It was the case of King v. NAIAD Inflatables of Newport, Inc. King was a Superior Court Case. In that case the Defendant's owed their attorneys about $50,000. The case was set for trial. The Defendant's attorney moved to withdraw because they hadn't been paid and that it was unreasonable that they as attorneys should be burdened with the time necessary for preparation and for trial. The judge denied the motion. Essentially the Judge thought it would be better for the court to flow more smoothly if the attorneys remained in the case.
The attorneys for NAIAD appealed the judge's decision denying their Motion to Withdraw. The Rhode Island Supreme Court stated that the judge didn't give enough consideration to the fact that attorneys need to be paid and that to keep the attorneys in further when they already hadn't been paid $50,000 or so dollars was unfair because it made them involuntary servants working for no wages. The Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court Judge's ruling allowing the Defendant's attorneys to withdraw.
The case can be downloaded by clicking on this link -> King v. NAIAD Inflatables of Newport, Inc.
In a nutshell, though the cases can be differentiated your answer is provided by the Rhode Island Supreme Court's decision in King.
An attorney must have the permission of the court in order to withdraw from a case but an attorney may certainly file a motion to withdraw if you have not paid your bill and the court has the power to grant it even if there is a trial date pending.
My suggestion. Pay your attorney or you will just end up trying to get another one who may have to charge you more just to get up to speed quickly depending upon the amount of time, if any, that the court gives you if your attorney's motion is granted.
In the end, ask yourself this. When you work a whole week after being told you'd be paid, don't you expect to be paid?