by Susan Geier

You may think that you cannot afford to get out of an unhappy marriage. Your spouse may make substantially more than you or controls the accounts, and you don’t have access. This article will show you where the law helps a lower-income spouse in the divorce process. Note that divorce laws and procedures differ from state to state and you should always check with the court system in your area before taking any action.

Initiating the Divorce
The initial filing for divorce isn’t complicated, and you can do this yourself. It requires filling out a complaint, a summary sheet and a Social Security disclosure form, all available on the court’s website with instructions. You will need to get a Family Matter Summons and Preliminary Injunction from a court clerk for $10 and then serve it and the other documents to your spouse.

The preliminary injunction automatically issues upon service and offers you protection. It stops either party from voluntarily removing the other party or a child from health insurance coverage and from transferring assets, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life. If you have access to your accounts, then you can withdraw the amount needed for a legal retainer. Paying your attorney in family law is considered a necessity of life.

Once the initial retainer is paid, you can ask to be repaid by filing for Orders Pending Divorce. Each state is different, but options might include requests from the court for items such as spousal support, child support, exclusive possession of the home, contact schedule and attorney fees.

Many family lawyers provide “Unbundled Legal Services”—also called “limited scope representation.” Using this method of legal service, you can speak to an attorney at his or her hourly rate and obtain good advice on finding forms, valuation of your case, residential plans for minor children, alternative dispute resolution and even preparing for trial.

During the Divorce
If the court issues Orders Pending Divorce, you may not be living exactly the same lifestyle as before, but you will be comfortable. Some jurisdictions may require you to go through mediation. You can do that through the court or you can choose private mediation. This is usually paid for by the higher-income spouse.

After the Divorce is Final
The legal system ensures your continuing support after a divorce in three ways:

  1. Equitable Division of Marital Property – An “equitable division” means the division is fair but not necessarily equal. Courts will take into account the contributions as a homemaker and each spouse’s economic circumstances, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live in it for a reasonable period of time, as well as which party has physical custody of children the majority of the time.
    Homes, cars, houses, businesses, pensions, retirement accounts, and stocks are all marital property if you acquired them during marriage regardless of whose name they are in.
  2. Child Support – Each state is different. There are online tools to help give you an idea, however, your lawyer can best let you know what to expect.
  3. Spousal Support – Depending on how long you have been married, you may be entitled to lifetime support. The court looks at many different factors to determine spousal support, including ability to pay. A lawyer will be able to go over whether you are entitled to spousal support and, if so, how much.

The law provides financial assistance to the lower income spouse every step of the way, and a trained family law attorney is there to ensure you receive that assistance.