Divorce is difficult. Even if you are the one who initiates the separation, it is seldom easy. And when kids, pets, and property are involved, it gets even more complicated. Divorce inevitably entails loss.
It may not feel like it now, but you will get through this! It may take a while, but it’s possible to come out on the other side of this experience with skills and strengths you never knew you had.
Knowledge is power. Our women-only divorce recovery programs -– Divorce Dialogues and a Divorce Support Group -- are designed to empower you with the information and support you need. Other community programs are listed on our counseling resource page under Divorce support.
In addition to programs that focus on emotional health, we offer the following overview of community resources pertaining to legal issues:
- Family law consultations
- Do-it-yourself divorce
- Self-initiated mediation
- If you or your children are at risk
- Nonprofit legal representation and advice
- Court-ordered mediation
- Keep attorney fees low
At Schoolcraft College’s Transition Center, a Certified Divorce Planner provides free consultations on the first Monday of each month from October through May. An attorney is available for consultation on the second and third Mondays. These consultations are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis and are free of charge.
Armed with the Michigan Divorce Book (with or without minor children) and/or the packet of forms provided by the Washtenaw County/EMU Legal Resource Center, 734.994.0160, you can arrange your own uncontested divorce. If your income is very low, you may quality for a reduction or forgiveness of the divorce application costs by filling out this form.
If you and your partner agree to engage in negotiation, voluntary mediation is a more flexible and less costly route than the mandatory court-ordered process. Mediators will guide you and your partner through decisions about parenting time, custody, child support, retirement/pensions, health insurance, housing, and so forth. Mediation fees are usually -– but not always -- less than attorney fees. The mediator will record your mutual decisions in a Memorandum of Understanding.
Before signing the memorandum, hire your own personal attorney to look it over to ensure that you have not compromised in ways that put you or your children at risk. In Washtenaw and Livingston Counties, the nonprofit Dispute Resolution Center offers affordable mediation services.
[Note: Self-initiated mediation is not recommended if you are afraid of your partner or if you find it hard to assert yourself.]
The most dangerous time for a woman in a coercive partner relationship is when she tries to leave. Your local domestic violence agency can talk you through the process of creating a safety plan. The National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Justices has compiled instructions on how to proceed if your partner is threatening to use custody of your children against you.
In Washtenaw County, you may qualify for legal services through SafeHouse Center’s intern-facilitated court advocacy, the Family Law Project. If you have evidence that your children have been endangered or are at risk for abuse, the Family Assessment Clinic offers counseling as well as objective interviewing that may be admissible in court. (Capacity in both these clinics is limited to a select number of cases per year.)
If you are undocumented and your partner is abusive you may qualify for a U-visa. More information is available through Immigrant Rights and Civil Advocacy Clinic at Cooley Law School, 734.372.4994 in Washtenaw County. In Wayne, call La Vida at 313.849.3920.
The nonprofit Legal Services of South Central Michigan offers free legal advice and representation on civil matters such as custody and divorce when women and children are at risk, family law, wills, power of attorney, eviction, foreclosure, utility shut-offs, and tenant repair issues for lower-income residents in Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe, and Shiawassee counties. (The Washtenaw County location does NOT handle divorce-related issues such as custody and child support. See instead, The Family Law Project.)
If you and your partner cannot come to an agreement on issues of parenting time, custody, and child support, a mediator from the Friend of the Court will work with you in order to save court time and money. This process is more directive than self-initiated mediation. Mandatory mediation is the last step before a costly and time-consuming trial. (Each county has their own Friend of the Court.)
If you have a credit/debit card, you may arrange for a 30-minute phone consultation with an attorney through the Washtenaw County Bar Association Referral Line. You may also apply for their Modest Means program designed to make legal representation more affordable (no more than $75 an hour) for those with qualifying incomes.
Unlike criminal court where a public defendant will be assigned to you if you cannot afford a defense attorney, you will have to hire your own divorce attorney if you decide you need one. This feels like an insurmountable obstacle to many women – especially if they no longer have access to their household income. Most attorneys require a “retainer” up front – that is, an initial payment that covers the time it takes to familiarize themselves with the details of your case and get started on paperwork. Ask friends and family if they have a recommendation of a trustworthy family law attorney who can work with you on a payment plan.
If you want to save money, do not use your attorney as a therapist. Attorney fees average $250 per hour. Make a list ahead of time of the issues and questions you want to address. Keep to the point. Do not elaborate on how hurt, sad, and angry you are. Get in and get out. Save those highly-charged emotional issues for your therapist or friends.