What do you do if you can’t afford the divorce you know you need? Julia Roberts said it best when playing the role of exasperated housewife who learns her husband is cheating on her: “I don’t have time for the nervous breakdown that I deserve!” Many identify with this marriage low point, portrayed in the movie Something to Talk About. But unlike Julia Roberts, many folks desperate for divorce are unable to pay for one. Thankfully, help is out there.
For starters, Knoxville residents are fortunate to have a non-profit law firm serving clients of limited means.
This firm can assist with a variety of civil issues, including divorce. Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is located in downtown Knoxville. It caters to low-income people. All services are free, and they can be reached at their main office or through their online intake portal on the LAET website. Although LAET only takes clients who meet certain income criteria, they often host clinics to help people get a simple divorce without a lawyer. You may contact their office directly for information on their no-lawyer divorce clinics.
If LAET cannot take your divorce case, they also provide an option via their Pro Bono partnership, The Pro Bono Project (PBP). PBP was established by LAET and is supported by Knox and surrounding county bar associations. This service refers cases that LAET cannot accept to private attorneys. These attorneys provide free legal services at monthly events. For information on when and where these events take place, contact the LAET office, or your county’s bar association.
Another option is to go through the University of Tennessee Pro Bono program.
This program functions through the UT College of Law. The college partners private attorneys with law students. Those partnerships perform a variety of Pro Bono legal work. The program can be a good option for someone with a very simple, amicable divorce or who is in need of other very basic legal assistance. For contact information and more on the UT Pro Bono program, click here.
Alternatively, basic legal questions can be answered for free via HELP4TN.
Their hotline, 1-844-HELP4TN (1-844-435-7486), allows clients to speak with a licensed attorney about a variety of civil legal issues. They can also refer you to additional resources.
For those willing to attempt to reach their own solutions to civil disputes…
…Knoxville is also home to the Community Mediation Center. The Center provides conflict resolution services to all members of our community, regardless of ability to pay. Parties are not required to have legal representation. The Center can help resolve divorce and post-divorce issues.
If you decide to file for divorce pro se (without legal representation)…
…you might be able to ask the court to waive the costs of filing your divorce. First, you must fill out an affidavit of indigency with the Court Clerk. This is free. Then, if you meet the low-income requirement, the Court will approve your affidavit. Then, you can file your divorce papers without paying any filing fees up front. The judge decides who will pay the court costs after the divorce is final.
Although “online divorce” packages have become popular, Courts typically advise against them.
That’s because the forms are often not compatible with the standard pleadings used in our local Courts. That can lead to serious legal ramifications. You can find legitimate help for a divorce online, however, at TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org. This online legal clinic permits Tennessee residents to ask up to three questions a year about specific legal problems. Users communicate with a volunteer lawyer via email. The service is completely free, and a licensed lawyer answers questions and provides legal advice. You can access this online legal clinic after submitting an application. However, you must be a Tennessee resident and meet certain financial criteria to qualify.
Ultimately, attorneys and judges alike will almost always recommend that you need legal representation for a divorce. But attorneys are expensive, and some people can’t afford to pay for a divorce. Luckily, there are several free and low-cost resources available. So, don’t lose hope if you can’t afford to pay for your divorce. If you’re in a bad marriage, get out, and get the divorce you deserve.
The information in this blog is accurate as of the time of publication, but laws and policies often change. Consult with an attorney who keeps up with the latest in these changes and knows what resources are available. Give us a call at 865-685-4780 today.