Low Income Divorce Help

By Beverly Bird

Legal troubles don’t just strike those who can afford to invest funds into winning. Divorce can happen to anyone, and attorneys' fees can add up to something you have no hope of paying if your income is low. Fortunately, state courts are aware of this and most have implemented procedures and programs to help those who can’t afford legal representation.

Legal Aid

Most states offer legal aid programs for low-income individuals. Services range from full representation to a free consultation with an attorney, depending on how much you earn and your particular problem. For example, if your divorce involves domestic violence, the income requirements for free legal aid are usually more generous to handle this particular aspect of your case. For other help, states base their income guidelines on a percentage of the federal poverty level. Texas offers legal aid to individuals who earn 125 percent of this level. If you have two children, you can earn up to $440 a week and qualify.

Do-It-Yourself Kits

Earning more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level does not necessarily mean you can afford a lawyer. If you can’t get state help because you earn too much, you can download the documents you need to file for divorce from many state court websites. Other websites sell them at moderate cost. Some states also offer free self-help legal clinics to guide you in preparing the documents. If you have a particular question, most attorneys will consult with you on an hourly basis, so you can get the answer you need without coming up with an entire retainer fee.

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Fee Waivers

After you prepare your divorce paperwork, your next hurdle is filing it. State court filing fees can be expensive, up to several hundred dollars. If your budget can’t accommodate this, you can apply for a fee waiver. Most states require that you do this at the time you file. When you take your documents to the court clerk, ask about your state’s procedure. You can usually fill out a form request right on the spot. The clerk will accept your paperwork and hold it pending a judge’s decision to waive your filing fee, either in whole or in part.

Other Options

Some states, such as New York, have special legislation if your spouse earns a good income but you don’t. A judge can order your spouse to pay some or all of your legal fees. Call legal aid in your area to find out if your jurisdiction offers this kind of help. Other states, such as Illinois, have special simplified divorce procedures if both you and your spouse are low-income earners. If you have limited property and no children, the cost of your divorce can be significantly less. Some states restrict free legal aid to only custody and child support issues, so if you do have children, you might be able to resolve this aspect of your divorce first at little or no cost, before filing for divorce. After you have a custody and support order in place, if you don’t own any significant property, you may be able to use your state's option for simplified divorce. The judge would include your custody and support order as part of your decree.

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Legal Aid & Divorce

References

Related articles

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Georgia?

No matter where you live, the money you must spend to get divorced depends a great deal on what’s at stake. If you and your spouse are battling over custody or another issue that’s very important to you, you can run up significant legal fees in short order. However, if yours is an uncomplicated, uncontested divorce, some Georgia attorneys will simply charge you a reasonable flat fee.

Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs for Divorce

When you file a divorce petition, you are asked to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford to pay it, you may be able to waive the fee by completing an affidavit called an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs, or as it is known in many states, an Affidavit of Indigency. If it's granted, your request affects only the filing costs, and not the overall costs of divorce itself. The financial requirements for filing an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs and receiving the waiver vary among states.

How to Pay for a Divorce

Divorce sometimes comes out of the blue. It’s not always the kind of event you can save up for, and the process can be quite pricey. The costs of a highly contested divorce can easily amount to what you might spend on an automobile or a down payment on a home. This can be especially unfair when one spouse has significant financial resources, and the other spouse has none. Some state laws anticipate this and have safeguards against it. If your state doesn’t, you might have to get creative about raising cash.

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