LEO: Domestic Relations - Fees - Contingent LE Op. 850
Domestic Relations - Fees - Contingent Fee
Arrangement for Child Support Arrearages.
November 10, 1986
An attorney represents the mother of a partially retarded child to
recover child support arrearages. The parents were divorced in Ohio in
1972. The Ohio divorce decree established the father's obligation to
support the partially retarded child for life and two other children until
maturity. The father discontinued support 12 years ago. The mother, a
resident of Mississippi, is indigent. The mother contracted with a
Mississippi attorney to recover child support arrearages, with that
attorney receiving 50% of recovery. The Mississippi attorney, in turn, has
contacted a Virginia attorney to assist in the case, since the husband is
a resident of Virginia, and has proposed a 25% contingent fee arrangement
with the Virginia attorney.
This situation is governed by LE Op. 667 which sets forth three
requirements which must be met in order for a contingent fee arrangement
to be used in a child support arrearage case. LE Op. 667 states that a
contingent fee arrangement in collecting child support arrearages is
unethical unless the following factors are satisfied:
1. Children involved have or will soon achieve the age of maturity;
2. The attorney involved has objectively satisfied himself that the
contingent fee arrangement would not likely, in any way, undermine the
noncustodial parent's relationship with the minor child or children;
3. The prospective client is indigent and no other type of fee
arrangement is practical;
4. The fee arrangement is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.
The committee determined that the partially retarded child should be
considered a minor due support for life under the specific terms of the
contractual obligation entered into 14 years earlier. The committee
determined that seeing the parent by coincidence twice in ten years, and
receiving one phone call in ten years and a $50.00 check each Christmas
does not constitute a parent/child relationship which would be undermined
by a contingent fee arrangement.
The committee did not feel able to approve or disapprove the 50%
contingent fee contract originally arranged in Mississippi. The committee
does not opine as to the 25% contingent fee proposed for the Virginia
attorney. Therefore, the committee finds this situation within the
restrictions of LE Op. 677.
Under the circumstances, it is not improper for an attorney to represent
the client for a percentage of the child support recovered. [ EC:2-22;
LE Op. 667]
Committee Opinion November 10, 1986
See also LE Op. 1174.