One of the biggest hurdles for people freeing themselves from abusive relationships is lack of money -- cash for first and last month's apartment deposit, our car . . . sometimes our very food.
What happens, then, when we have no money to get the divorce which will 'legally' set us free?
Jody Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org) recently posted her story to the Land of Oz online support group for partners of borderlines. (See previous post -- SUPPORT: Land of Oz Online Support Group)
I was so impressed -- and stunned -- by her story of guts, courage and cleverness in getting her divorces with no money that I asked for her permission to share it with you here on my blog.
Below is her post, which I've named 'How to Get a Divorce When You're Broke'. In Jody's reply to me, giving me permission to post her advice here, she added the following:
"There were other sources that I didn't add in my original post. Most bookstores do have 'file your own divorce' handbooks. Also, most law libraries have little booklets you can buy on how to do your own divorce with the papers also.
"It's very liberating to know that if you can prove you're broke, you're not stuck because you can't come up with the filing fees. I've heard many people feeling trapped when they can't come up with the filing fees for these things because they don't know you can get it done for free.
"I've also found that even when I do everything wrong -- that the judge's clerk will usually chuck the papers back at me and tell me what I need to fix and then refile. I didn't mind. I just kept going back to court until the judge told me it was right."
Jody's message to everyone struggling to get a divorce: You can do it !!
HOW TO GET A DIVORCE WHEN YOU'RE BROKE
by Jody Williams
My ex got me fired from my job, evicted from my apartment, and stole my car when I threw him out. Affording a lawyer was out of the question for me. If I hadn't been a paralegal, I NEVER would have been able to get myself through the legal maze I had to go through.
I found out that even most lawyers don't know or don't take the time to enforce garnishment of wages, tax returns, and paychecks and bank accounts for judgments, even though it's usually a simple matter of filling out forms.
Fees were a hard one for me. I learned that because I had to file for welfare (to feed myself and our baby to get away from him), I could get all the fees waived. I got the court fees for the filing of the divorce petition and the service from the marshal waived by showing them proof that I was on welfare.
Everyone in the United States is enitled to legal help, even if they can't afford it. Court fees and service fees of legal papers to the opposing party can be waived in any state if you can prove you're poor.
You don't have to be on welfare. You can show them a bank statement, an income statement or some notarized statement that you're broke. They have a separate form you fill out to have a judge approve the waiving of your court fees.
Lawyer's fees can't be waived -- only court fees. Even xeroxing fees for your papers can be waived once you have the form signed by a judge.
You don't even have to go to the hearing. You just mail in the appropriate forms to the court, the judge stamps it, and then you can show it to get all fees waived.
As for hidden bank accounts you don't know about, you can go to places like www.freecreditreport.com and order a credit report for free (since you know his information). Usually that site will show you any open accounts. It may not show all of them, but a lot of them will show up. You'd be surprised what you can find out about someone from a credit report. They pop it up online, and you can print it out right there -- free.
If you don't know where they are working, usually even their job will show up on the credit report. From that information, you'll know where to go to garnish wages.
If they're expecting an income tax return, you can let the IRS know that you want to garnish that for payment of a judgment order from the court.
To find hidden bank accounts not showing up on the credit report (or that they might have joint with someone else as the main acccount holder), you can call any of the banks you think this person might have an account with. You probably know the full name, social security number and birthdate of this person. With that information, you can call that bank and 'pretend' to be them and having lost your account number. They ask for birthdate and social security number -- and then will give you the account number.
To get contempt of an order of the court, the lawyers usually have to file for a hearing to have that done. Most lawyers don't like to do this -- and then there's the problem of having no money to pay their fee. There are forms you can fill out to represent yourself and ask for this kind of hearing.
If you can't afford a lawyer, you can represent yourself. In every state I've lived in, this means you write in your name on the forms, then the words 'in pro per'. This means you're representing yourself. You also write in your contact information instead of a lawyer's contact information.
VERY IMPORTANT: YOU ARE ALLOWED TO USE A POST OFFICE BOX IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GIVE OUT YOUR HOME ADDRESS.
(NOTE ADDED BY LYNN 8/22/2012: HOWEVER, be careful NOT to open a mail box at the UJ. S. Post Office if you're still living with your soon-to-be-ex. The Post Office will send a confirming post card to your home that the box has been opened. A mail box at a business that rents boxes to the public is a safer place to have your mail sent to.)
Every place I've lived in besides Las Vegas has forms you can fill out in pen for just about everything you need done. They also usually have some kind of family law help center where you can get free forms and advice. If you can't find one near you in the phone book (because they all have different names), you can call up your nearest law library and ask them where to find it. They'll know where it is.
As for ganishing wages or bank accounts or whatever, there are forms to get a judge to order that garnishment once you have a judgment. You have to file to get a garnishment order from the judge. Then a marshal or sheriff (whoever it is in your state that the courts use to serve their papers) will go to the employer or bank and attach the money -- or take it and freeze it -- or whatever is appropriate.
Almost all towns have a law library. You can ask the librarian for a book of court forms. They have copies of all of the forms available that you can just fill out yourself. All libraries and law libraries have books that are called Rules of Court -- for your local courthouse. Those will tell you what papers are needed, how to file them, where and what the fees are, etc.
You can also look up a lot about statutes and laws in your town online. Some courthouses even have forms you can just download online. Not all courts, and not all the forms, are available online though. So visiting a law library or even the main or local library (if your town is too small), can help you. All libraries either have court or legal books -- or they can refer you to the library that does.
I have sued people, defended myself, collected judgments, done two divorces and gotten child support orders. All kinds of stuff I've done myself for free -- using the Internet, the law libraries and the family law centers when I needed help. And almost all of my suits and service fees I've gotten waived because I was broke.
You can also try Prepaid Legal. For $35.00 for a month of service, you can get lawyers to give you advice, review papers and even give you appropriate court forms and tell you where and how to file them. I've used them successfully on simple matters, when I've needed the intimidation of a lawyer to call or write a letter, help me with legal research or to get certain forms. They are cheaper than a lawyer in their own private practice.
But be warned -- Prepaid Legal attorneys are usually first-year lawyers and not the sharpest tool in the shed. Sometimes I knew more than these lawyers with their service. But when I've needed a lawyer to call someone and be intimidating -- or help getting certain forms -- it was a $35.00 well spent.
Prepaid Legal is a month-to-month service. If you need another month, you can get help for approximately only $16.00, because then you've already paid your registration fee.
Also, all court files are public record. Sometimes I haven't known how to do legal papers in a certain town, can't find a lawyer who would help me, and couldn't get help from the library. This happened when I lived in a very, very small town of like 800 people.
So I went to the local courthouse and asked to see all of the files on a certain type of law. They hassled me, but I reminded them that as public records, I had the right to see these files.
By reviewing the files, I was able to see how the local lawyers handled evicting bad tenants. I had a tenant I couldn't get out of the rental house I owned in this small town. No lawyer or judge would help me, because they were relatives of half the town. After looking at the files, I filed the same papers myself to get them evicted.
I went through stuff I needed help on myself like when my ex came and stole my car after I'd gotten a restraining order on him. He obviously violated the order by coming to get my car. The police wouldn't file a stolen car report because we were still married.
I went to the judge, and he gave me a contempt order of the restraining order. But then the police wouldn't go arrest him. They said that they were not going to run around and chase him -- and that they couldn't force him to come to court. They said unless I had him right there -- holding him -- and then called them -- only then would they arrest him on violation of the restraining order.
So I called him and asked him to meet me somewhere for lunch. At the time of the lunch, I went across the street to see that he was there. I then called the police and said I was holding him there and that I wanted them to come arrest him on the contempt charge.
I don't like orders for payments. When I was dealing with my ex's who were Borderline, they loved me to be chasing them around each month for payments or trying to find where they hid the money.
My father forged fake money orders and showed them to the judge when my mom filed for contempt for not paying child support. Even my mom's own lawyer believed it -- until we found out we could go to the money order company with the numbers on the orders he had produced. We got a letter from the company stating that they had been cashed back in by him, so we didn't get the money
Most people don't believe what our ex's can do -- let alone sometimes even the lawyers (unless they've been around a long time). Then in those cases, we usually can't afford those lawyers, anyway.
I've learned that with the legal system, unless you can afford the best lawyers, you have to be hard-working, do a lot of research and be creative.
Author: Jody Williams (email@example.com)
POSTED MAY 16, 2006: I was reminded by a friend recently that the Internet has empowered many people to represent themselves in ways not available in the past .
People searching for information on forms, filing fees, etc., should search/Google for the web site of their county, then click on court system.
When I performed that search for my county, I was amazed to see how much information is available there. Our taxes at work.