California Family Law Attorney
Recent Posts
225 South Civic Drive Suite 1-3 Palm Springs, CA 92262


Q. How do I fire my family law attorney?

You are free to discharge your attorney, and terminate his or her services, for any reason and at any time. Attorneys cannot require that you first pay off your bill, or that you reimburse them for expenses (including any costs associated with copying your file) before they will withdraw. In California this is accomplished with the Courts by both you and your attorney signing a Substitutions of Attorney which is then filed with the clerk of the Court where your case is pending. Simply download this form, fill it out, and take it to your attorney's office for their signature. Usually they will get it filed and send you a "conformed" copy (i.e., one that bears the filing stamp of the court).

If you do not have a pending case, you need simply write your lawyer an email or letter telling him to cease all efforts on your behalf.

She must return your entire file, except her notes, within 10 days of a written request. The California State Bar will discipline lawyers who fail or refuse to comply. She must also give you a final accounting on his bill within that time, and return all unused fees to you. Unless you have a true flat fee arrangement, she cannot keep the balance of your retainer and must turn over to you all unused funds within a reasonable time.

One important bit of advice, however: Be careful how you time firing your lawyer. He or she is "on the hook" insofar as the Court is concerned so long as they remain your attorney of record. There may be reasons why you should wait until after a hearing takes place before signing the Substitution.

In the event you choose not to sign a Substitution of Attorney - where for instance it is the attorney who is firing you - that attorney remains on the hook until an Order for Withdrawal is signed by a Judge, which can only occur after a Notice of Motion is filed by the attorney to be relieved as your counsel. The motion process takes at least 25 days and you are entitled to oppose it. The lawyer must provide a declaration stating that the attorney-client relationship is broken between you, but they are not required to say why (for instance, that you lied to them or were uncooperative). Unfortunately, however, I see many lawyers who sloppily do tell the court something that may hurt your case or the court's perception of you. Frankly, if they do that it may be grounds for a State Bar Complaint.

We offer Second Opinions and frank and discreet, expert advice, by telephone and video-conferencing and webcam!

Thurman W. Arnold III


I have a question regarding substitution in general. I have been pro se for a bit in a divorce matter with a highly contested custody issue. A minor child has terminal cancer and I have court ordered custody. My Ex did not tell me throughout that she had an attorney as our daughter lay in critical condition in the hospital. We had an OSC hearing coming up re: continued custody. OK. She didn't have to tell me but the attorney did. She was retained in April according to financial documents but had my EX sign the retainer in May. I was living at the hospital much of this time. An OSC was scheduled for Tuesday, June 8th 100 miles away. I was going home for the weekend returning on Sunday. The attorney signed a substitution on June 2nd, stamped it on June 3rd, and postmarked in on Friday, June 4th clearly expecting that it would arrive no sooner than Monday June 8th. Surprise! It arrived on Saturday, June 5th. Included was discovery material. An 11th hour substitution and I was sandbagged at the OSC but still prev
Dear T. Rice:

It sounds as if everything has been concluded in your case, except that you have to wait out the statutory time for the termination of marital status. Your Marital Termination Agreement becomes effective once it is signed by a judge. Assuming that there is nothing remaining to do under the MTA (like signing deeds or property transfers), you won't likely suffer harm if you discharge your attorney at any time now. If there are deed or other transfers, get them done and then thank the attorney and say "goodbye" to them.

We both have atty's the final Marital Settlement Agreement was been submitted to the courts on May 19, 2011. Final for the divorce is August 24,2011. When can I fire my atty and stop the bleed?Thanks, T Rice