Shortly after Marjorie moved into her apartment, she found a divorce lawyer to represent her. On the surface, that’s not unusual. I imagine most people going through divorce use an attorney to some degree. What is unusual though is that Marjorie had no money. Her SBTX had closed the joint accounts and she had only just found a part-time minimum wage job. When I’ve asked attorneys what clients should do in situations like this, the answer has been, find a way to come up with the money whether that’s asking for support from your family, selling some possessions or even using a credit card. Marjorie however managed to find an attorney to represent her at no charge, pro bono. Here’s how:
[contemplate1] It was another blessing. I think a lot of cities have community legal services, and typically, if you go through them, they’re going to give you advice. They’re going to tell you how to fill out your forms.
One of the first things I realized was that if I let things stay the way they were, I wasn’t going to be able to get any temporary financial support from my husband, and I needed to file a petition…I needed to be the one filing for divorce because of everything that happened. I needed to get a move on this so I could start getting my daughter back and moving on with my life. So I filed for divorce with something called “indigent status.”
A lot of women don’t know about that, but basically you go to the courts and you tell them, “I don’t have the financial means to file my divorce papers, and I need to file it for free, or waived,” known as indigent status. Once you fill out the form, you’re basically saying you’re going through legal aid services. Then you can file your divorce papers for free. Typically to file your divorce papers, it’s maybe a couple hundred dollars, and if you’re a mother that’s been left with nothing, then even that is a lot of money.
If you’re sitting, waiting, for him to file when he’s ready, which makes him the petitioner, or he leaves you in limbo, it’s hard to go to court looking for temporary means. In Florida, they don’t have what’s called “legal separation,” so you’re either married, or you’re not, so you can’t go in and even ask for temporary alimony or child support based on a legal separation. So for me, it had to be a divorce.
I went and filed the papers by December, and because I was working with the legal services, I went and saw an attorney. A friend of mine was going through a divorce, so she said, “Why don’t you go talk to my attorney and tell him what happened.” So I spoke with him and he is a member of the board for legal services, and I asked him, “Is there any way you can help me?”
He said, “Well, just call legal services and let them know that I’ll represent you. This will count towards my pro bono hours” because every attorney needs to put in a certain amount of pro bono hours, and that’s how that happened.
So that was another blessing. And if you don’t ask, they won’t know.
It’s really about asking. When you go to an attorney, don’t be afraid to say, “Would you take my case pro bono? Would you help me?”
My lawyer clearly saw what had happened to me was just so unjust. My husband works for the city in which we lived, as an engineer and makes almost $90,000 a year, and him being the primary breadwinner, cutting me off the way he did and the turn of events, the lawyer knew that this was the setup to have a leg-up for the divorce, and so he agreed to do it. Because it is pro bono, it’s been dragging. It’s really been dragging, it really shouldn’t have taken this long, but my husband’s a difficult man, so we’re going to have to end up fighting this out in court.
I know that many of us going through divorce never face the hostility that Marjorie has faced but regardless, it is so important to know the basic divorce laws in your state and to understand your legal position. A child custody fight is not the time to decide to represent yourself, no matter how smart or intelligent you are. Getting competent legal advice is imperative.
Many divorce attorneys will offer an hour’s consultation at no charge and there are also online services like my affiliate, Total Divorce Attorneys, where you’ll find tons of information on the divorce laws in a specific state and you can ask for a consultation with an attorney to evaluate your case. They also offer a toll-free number – 877-248-2303. Another place to go for pro bono information is the bar association for your state.
And as Marjorie says, don’t be afraid to ask for pro bono help. If the attorney you asks says no, then rephrase the question to how you go about getting pro bono help.
Photo credit: m kasahara