The Washington State Supreme Court rejected a woman’s claim that she had a right to have a publicly appointed attorney in her divorce case. Sadly, the woman lost custody of her three children during her divorce because she could not afford an attorney and represented herself. The court feels that “divorces are civil matters that do not warrant state-funded counsel”.
The playing field in divorce court is obviously not level when the spouse who has greater access to money can hire a divorce lawyer and the poorer spouse is left to represent herself. The woman in this case did initially hire a divorce lawyer using her rent money, but was financially unable to continue to pay legal fees. The old saying “only a fool represents themselves” is quite true in divorce court.
Without a lawyer you stand very little chance of being successful, especially if your soon to be ex has hired a legal shark. But there are some measures you can take if you are facing a divorce and have very little or no money for an attorney:
Most divorce lawyers do not want you to know this, but they can file a motion with the court asking that your spouse foot your legal bills. If your spouse is the primary breadwinner and you do not have access to the martial funds, this is a good option. But beware, unless there are significant martial assets, most divorce lawyers prefer to get their retainer directly from you. They rather not petition the court before they have received any funds. You may have to interview several lawyers before finding one who will agree to this.
If borrowing from family and friends is not an option and you have no open credit or assets, then you can try pleading your case to divorce lawyers and ask them to represent you without a retainer. If there are martial assets that will be divided after the divorce is final, a lawyer may agree to represent you and collect his fee later.
If there are no martial assets to be divided in the divorce and you are facing a custody issue, you could try asking divorce lawyers to represent you pro bono (free of charge). This will be difficult, but if you are at risk of losing custody of your kids, and have a solid case, you may be able to persuade a law firm to help you. After all, lawyers are people too and you never know who may have a heart and lend you a hand. If this is the route you must take, you need to be persistent and not give up after being told no. Keep trying until you find someone who can help you.