We seem to always hear about the mega rich divorces. You know, those cases where the legal fees and magnitude of the financial settlements can boggle anyone’s mind. But at the other side of the spectrum, how do the economically disadvantaged get divorced?
Yes, there are many couples that cannot afford to get divorced simply because they can’t come to grips with the possible reduced standard of living post divorce. And there are couples that don’t want to spend the money on legal fees to get divorced. But what I’m talking about are individuals, particularly women, who simply don’t have the money to file for a divorce.
For many in this situation, long-term separation is the most obvious way out. An article by the American Sociological Association highlighted a study indicating that married couples who undergo long-term separations generally appear to be those who can’t afford to divorce. And of these, about 80% of the respondents reported that their marriage ended in divorce, most within three years.
But this option is a challenge in states, like Florida, where separation is not recognized. Therefore, even if physically separated, a couple is still married in the eyes of the law. This is a potentially dangerous situation, as one could be liable for the actions of a spouse who they don’t even live with.
So if you are poor, how exactly can you get divorced in Miami-Dade County? Given the financial situation, obviously, retaining an attorney is not an option. It turns out that the only real viable option is with the help of The Family Court’s Self Help Program. With a trip to the self help center, $495 and the completion of various forms, you can file your own divorce. But for many economically disadvantaged this last resort represents several challenges.
First is the time required to miss work for the visit downtown. There are no reservations, no online option and long lines at the self help center. For many in a difficult economic circumstance missing work for the visit is a challenge to say the least.
The second issue is the $495. For many of us, this is no big deal, but when you are below the poverty line, this could be the rent payment. And you cannot get the divorce packet and receive the filing assistance afforded by the program without paying the required fee.
Finally, you have the issue of the forms. These are legal forms that are difficult to understand and complete. Even after the purchase of the divorce packet, the self help center provides little assistance with the forms’ completion. The role of the center is to help individuals with the procedural aspects of representing themselves before the court.
At our company, we often come across this situation with callers looking for free or low-cost divorce options. Sadly, most of these callers are women financially stuck in a really bad marriage. They simply don’t have the time, money or skill to get divorced via the resources of the self help center.
To overcome these challenges, we created The Divorce Angel Fund. As part of this initiative, our company works with local family law attorneys and paralegals for the completion of the legal documents required for a divorce filing. The fund provides the money to program recipients for the payment of their legal fees.
The Divorce Angel Fund is exclusively self-funded by the company. However, to increase the fund’s scope, we anticipate the conversion of the Divorce Angel Fund into a non-profit in the near future. If you are interested in learning more about the fund or how you can help, please call or email me.
Poverty and divorce are linked on many levels, and it’s a problem that simply won’t go away because we don’t hear about it.