DIVORCE OPTIONS (WHEN YOU CAN'T AFFORD A LAWYER)

This week, I’ve had many calls from folks who have made the decision to file for divorce. However, they find that attorneys’ retainer fees range from $2500 to $10000.00, far over what many can afford.  What can you do when you can’t afford these high retainers?

  • Mediation. Mediated divorce agreements are typically far less expensive than litigated divorces. You do not have to be in agreement about the division of property or child custody, but you both must agree to attend a mediation session.  Click here for more information.
  • Collaborative Divorce.  If your situation is complicated, you have disagreements about child custody or you are in a complicated financial situation, you can save significant funds by selecting a collaborative process.  Both parties hire specially trained attorneys who work collaboratively to find the best option. Click here for more information.
  • Pro Bono.  Most states provide help to some divorce litigants with free or pro bono lawyers.  Click on your state for Information about these programs:  West Virginia , District of Columbia , and Maryland . 
free self help file divorce
  • Filing the paperwork without a lawyer.  If you and your partner agree on most of the issues or if you can reach an agreement in mediation, you might consider filing for divorce without an attorney.  I have been involved with making it easier for parties to file for divorce without a lawyer throughout my career and many of the resources that I’ve worked on are available online.
    • West Virginia:  In the early 1990’s I worked with the West Virginia Supreme Court to create the first set of model pleadings for divorce cases.  Those are now expanded into a complete set of fill-in-the-blank forms.  Click here to get those documents from the Supreme Court’s website.  You may obtain a copy for a fee from many offices of the Circuit Clerk in your county.  
    • District of Columbia:  I am proud to be a member of the publications committee of the DC Bar and we recently overhauled our website to make it more user friendly.  Click here for the paperwork to file for divorce.
    • Maryland:  Attorney Tamar Tufts, who joined our office last year, has been a licensed Maryland attorney for over twenty years.  Click here for the divorce paperwork provided by the Maryland court system.    
  • Other assistance when you don' t have a lawyer. If you have decided to file without a lawyer, you might have some other questions.  Here are some resources to help you find those answers.
    • West Virginia:  After law school, I worked with Legal Aid for a few years and we developed handouts with information for clients about divorce.  Those have been expanded and improved and are available on-line. Legal Aid also offers clinics in some areas where volunteer attorneys help you with your paperwork.  Contact them to see if there is a clinic in your area.  
    • District of Columbia:  I currently volunteer with a program with the District of Columbia bar that provides a free walk in assistance for divorces at the Family Court Self-Help Center.  Click here for information about that program.     Another wonderful program with the DC Bar are the clinics operated throughout the city.  
    • Maryland:  Many counties in Maryland offer a self-help clinic.  Contact the local courthouse to see if your county offers that service.

Please remember that by providing these links, we are not providing legal services, only information provided by the courts and bar associations.  We recommend that you contact an attorney in your state to discuss your case to make the decisions that will benefit your family in the long term.