Hague Abduction Convention - Legal Representation Options and Procedures in the United States

Convenio de La Haya sobre la Sustracción de Menores: Opciones y procedimientos en materia de representación jurídica en los Estados

Haga clic aquí para español

The United States is not bound to assume any costs or expenses resulting from the participation of attorneys or from court proceedings, except insofar as those costs may be covered by a legal aid program. The Convention requires that applicants in Convention partner countries who apply for legal aid to represent a Convention case are to be treated as if they are nationals of and habitually resident in the United States. In the United States, there is no entitlement to legal aid in civil cases. Therefore, there is no guarantee that you will receive legal aid. 

The Office of Children’s Issues provides qualifying applicants with information to help them find an attorney. For qualified applicants, this legal representation may be pro bono (no attorney fee) or reduced fee. We have observed if parents are willing to contribute some payment towards legal representation, the likelihood of finding an attorney may increase. If you can afford an attorney, the Office of Children’s Issues can provide, upon request, a list of attorneys you may contact. 


To request pro bono or reduced-fee legal representation, you must submit a Request for Legal Assistance. You can submit this with your Convention application. You can find the links to this form (English and Spanish) at the bottom of this page. The foreign central authority should highlight the request for pro bono or reduced-fee representation in their cover letter. 

The applicant must personally assess their eligibility to request pro bono or reduced-fee legal services based on income guidelines that represent 125% and 200% of the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines. The guidelines, which are published annually by the Legal Services Corporation, are available from a link at the end of this document. The guidelines are typically followed by all legal aid programs in the U.S. They also provide guidance to private attorneys considering pro bono representation. Additional financial information may also be required to determine eligibility for pro bono or reduced-fee legal services.

NOTE: Please review the information in your financial self-assessment for accuracy. An applicant who provides incorrect or incomplete information may not receive further assistance from the U.S. Central Authority in identifying available attorneys.  


After receiving the required documents, the Office of Children’s Issues tries to develop a list of attorneys. These attorneys are members of the all-volunteer Hague Convention Attorney Network. They are contacted in advance and agree to speak with the applicant. These attorneys have agreed to discuss the possibility of representation with the applicant. They have not committed to represent the applicant. Lists may also include legal aid programs. The Office of Children’s Issues notifies these programs that the applicant may contact them about a Hague Convention case. The Office of Children’s Issues does not guarantee that an available attorney will be identified. Nor does the Office of Children’s Issues guarantee that an attorney will agree to represent the applicant.

An attorney list is sent to the applicant via the foreign central authority. Upon receipt, the next step is for the applicant to contact one or more of the attorneys and/or legal aid programs. This should be done within two weeks. For applicants who need a translator in order to communicate orally with an attorney, the Office of Children’s Issues may arrange to provide telephone translation services. These services are provided at no charge to the applicant or prospective attorney. The foreign central authority should contact the Office of Children’s Issues to request these services.

When searching for attorneys, the Office of Children’s Issues does not provide case-specific information. The applicant should provide these details to the attorney in the phone call. Attorneys may request financial information from the applicant to determine whether to offer representation at a full fee, a reduced fee, or pro bono (no fee). Or, the attorney may decline to offer legal services. In some reduced-fee cases, attorneys reported hourly fees of $50-70. But, reduced fee rates typically exceeded that range (e.g. $100-$150 per hour). Legal aid programs will generally follow their normal intake procedures to determine eligibility for services. After the consultation, applicants and attorneys may choose to enter into an attorney-client relationships. But, there is no obligation to do so.

The Office of Children’s Issues does not participate in any way in the formation of the attorney client relationship, including negotiating attorney fees, payment schedules, or other terms of the retainer agreement. These matters must be negotiated, if at all, strictly between the applicant and the attorney. Terms of representation and decisions regarding the objectives and means of representation are matters between the attorney and client only.

Attorneys for Hague applicants are not agents or representatives of the U.S. Department of State or the United States government. The U.S. Department of State assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or quality of services provided by attorneys on these lists. Inclusion on attorney lists is in no way an endorsement or recommendation of the U.S. Department of State.


Even when the attorney accepts the case at a pro bono or reduced rate, the applicant may still be expected to pay other fees. These may include court costs, filing fees, service of process, phone calls, travel expenses, stenographer, and translations. These other fees may total $1000 or more and vary depending on the case. For example, trial transcripts and expert witnesses may be costly additional expenses. The court may have authority to waive certain court costs if requested by the applicant’s attorney. Also, legal fees and expenses may be recoverable if the applicant prevails in the Convention case. Some legal aid programs may pay some or all of the costs and expenses.    


The Office of Children’s Issues will provide a list of full-fee attorneys to an applicant upon request. The applicant will need to contact these attorneys directly.


Last Updated: July 5, 2024