Options for free legal help (when you’re not a criminal)
By Isabel Suarez
Concurring: Tim Carlin
My husband left me (and our two children) four months ago. I have been a homemaker for the last 12 years of our marriage. He has not provided us with any support, nor has he paid the mortgage or utilities. I have called countless attorneys and I cannot afford any of them. I have not been able to pay for any household expenses and my car has been repossessed. The public defender’s office said they did not deal with these types of cases. Is there any free legal help available for people in my position?
Dear Deserving Mother,
I am certain that it will give you little comfort to know that many women and men find themselves in a similar situation. Notwithstanding any assistance you may qualify for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. Briefly, the following are some of your limited options. The first one is that you can file for divorce and request temporary spousal and child support during the pendency of your divorce. The Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division, provides a pro se package, (the forms are available at the court and online) which allows you to file for divorce on your own. If you qualify financially, the filing fees, which are substantial ($300 to $400), may be waived and later assessed to your husband. However, given the various issues you identified in your question, once you have completed all documents necessary, you will better understand the saying, “It’s easy to get in, tough to get out.”
Here are just a few of the documents you will need to prepare: Poverty Affidavit, Financial Disclosure Affidavit, Information for Parenting Proceeding, Questionnaire DR-8, and of course, the Divorce Complaint. Once completed, the court will issue temporary orders of support. Enforcing these temporary orders is yet another issue that you may have to deal with through Motions for Contempt. This process can be very challenging, especially when you may or may not know the totality of marital assets and or debts. While the court’s personnel is very helpful, the task of getting divorced on your own can be very daunting, especially when you are already in a probably overwhelmed and depressed state of mind.
Your other option is to contact Legal Aid of Western Ohio. This organization provides either free, or on a sliding scale basis, legal services in a number of areas, including divorce. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming need, this organization is forced to prioritize applicants with the most urgent need. In researching your question, our office contacted them anonymously, and the news is not good. First, you must have a pending hearing, meaning your spouse has filed for a divorce action, or there is a domestic violence action filed by you or your spouse. Income alone will not suffice. Nonetheless, I encourage you to call and let them determine if you qualify.
Your other option is to contact the Dayton Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer’s Project. The members of this program are private attorneys, who give their time on a pro bono basis, as a public service.
In some cases, attorneys in private practice do pro bono or reduced-fee basis cases without any formal membership to the project.
I cannot begin to count the times that individuals in your situation have expressed their frustration in their inability to get legal assistance, while people who commit crimes get public defenders or court-appointed attorneys. While I share their frustration, the right to be represented in a criminal matter, is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Who can argue with the Founding Fathers? Unfortunately, I have not provided you with any meaningful resolution. but you have motivated our office to join the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project.
I encourage my colleagues to do the same and the public-at-large to make monetary contributions to Legal Aid of Western Ohio, at 333 West First St., Suite 500, Dayton, OH 45402.
Legal disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.