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.