–by Sam Darling, Family Law Attorney
As an attorney in Washington, people frequently ask me what to do if they are divorcing here but cannot afford a lawyer. Fortunately our state has numerous low-cost and free resources available. The following are some of the best I have come across, sorted by whether they are low-cost or free:
Best Low-Cost Resources for WA Divorces (for Free Resources, See Further Down)
- Limited-License Legal Technicians. Limited-license legal technicians (LLTs) hold a new category of legal license expressly created to assist Washingtonians who cannot afford attorneys. LLTs can draft all your family law and divorce-related documents and give legal advice. Their only meaningful limitation is that they cannot attend court on your behalf. Of note, LLTs and paralegals are NOT the same. Paralegals do not have adequate legal training to practice law without attorney supervision. LLTs do. Also of note, the first LLTs are being trained as I write this and may not be available yet.
- Flat Fee Agreed Divorce Services (Attorney Supervised). Parties who agree on all the terms of their divorce can use a flat fee agreed divorce service and spend considerably less than they would on a typical divorce attorney. When my clients agree on all terms, I send them to an attorney-supervised agreed divorce service named Peaceful Separations. Peaceful Separations charges around $600 – $700 per case, which includes the nearly $300 court filing fee. I have no affiliation with Peaceful Separations—my recommendation is completely unbiased. As a word of warning, you should only use a flat fee divorce service if it has a licensed Washington attorney on staff. From what I have seen, paralegal-only services and online programs often result in horribly botched divorces that can be expensive to fix.
- Courthouse Packets. Some, or perhaps all, Washington Superior Court clerk’s offices sell divorce packets for $50 or less. The packets contain forms and instructions.
- Family Law Facilitators. Similarly some, or perhaps all, Washington Superior Court buildings have family law facilitators who can assist you in locating and reviewing divorce and family law forms for about $10 per session. Unlike LLTs (see above), family law facilitators cannot offer legal advice, and they will not draft or complete documents for you.
- Unbundled Legal Services. Unbundled legal services means hiring an attorney to perform limited tasks rather than full representation, and most Washington divorce attorneys will do it if you ask. Unbundled representation can be the key to effectively pulling together numerous low-cost divorce resources. For example, you might purchase a divorce packet at the courthouse, have a family law facilitator initially help you complete the documents, and then have an attorney help you review and revise the completed documents. Attorneys typically charge their normally hourly rate for unbundled services.
Best Free Resources for WA Divorces
- Northwest Justice Project, also Known as CLEAR. If you income qualify, you might receive live legal assistance from Northwest Justice Project by calling 1-888-201-1014. Expect to spend a few hours trying to get through on the phone—these services are in high demand. I personally volunteer there, as do most divorce and family law attorneys I know. Many law firms—ours included—will only take pro bono (unpaying) divorce and family law clients if we meet them through Northwest Justice Project.
- Resources On Our Website. Our firm’s website contains a wealth of free information. For a preliminary overview of a divorce topic, go to the side menu at www.divorcelawyerseverett.genesislawfirm.com. You can find more in-depth divorce-related articles at http://www.genesislawfirm.com/divorce-family-law-articles-publications.
- Divorce in Snohomish County Website. I have a free Google Sites website called “Divorce in Snohomish County” that offers instructional articles on ten of the most common divorce-related questions. To find the website, perform a web search for “Divorce in Snohomish County”.
- WashingtonLawHelp.Org. Free divorce and family law packets are available online at http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/issues/family-law.
- Official Washington State Legal Templates. Washington’s official divorce and family law forms are available online at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/.
- Official Washington State Child Support Guide. Washington’s official child support guide is available online at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/documents/WSCSS_Schedule2015.doc.
- Online Child Support Calculator. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has published a free online child support calculator. You can access it by clicking here: https://fortress.wa.gov/dshs/csips/ssgen.
- Washington’s Statutes. All of Washington’s statutes are feely accessible online. The family law statutes are organized within Title 26 RCW, which you can find here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26. More specifically, the divorce statutes are primarily available at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26.09, the child support statutes are mostly available at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26.19, and the parentage statutes are at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26.26.
- Washington’s Court Rules. Washington’s state-wide and local court rules are available for free at http://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/. Of note, both the state and local rules apply to your proceeding, so reading only one set of rules might leave gaps in your knowledge. If your case is in Snohomish County, you might do best to read my “Divorce in Snohomish County” website (see above) for some practical help with these rules.
Recommended Articles & Videos:
- Tips on Keeping Your Divorce Attorney’s Fees Low
- Unbundled Legal Services: Representing Yourself With Limited Help From an Attorney
- How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Washington State?
- Top Mediators in Snohomish County
- Positioning Yourself to Win Custody
- Property Division in WA Divorces: The Basics
- What Is a Normal Parenting Plan in Washington State?