I have no money and a non-cooperative ex, how do I get legal help?

How can I obtain assistance in a custody matter when I have no money and my ex-husband is not following the current court order? 

In some jurisdictions there are legal services that exist for the purpose of helping the poor. They provide anywhere from discounted services to free services. Sometimes what you pay (if anything) is based upon your income (the less your income is, the less you pay). Not everyone qualifies for these reduced-fee or free services, and it should come as no surprise to that (with occasional exception), when it comes to free or cheap legal services, you get what you pay for.  

Some law schools offer some legal help in the form of clinics staffed by law students who are supervised by a lawyer or lawyers. As you can imagine, because law students are students and not yet lawyers, the legal knowledge they have is limited, as is the kinds and amounts of legal help they can give. These legal clinics usually provide help in the form of showing you how to do-it-yourself. Rarely will legal clinics staffed by law students provide you with limited or full representation in court.  

Some bar associations host legal clinics as well. Again, these are not soup to nuts outfits. They usually limit themselves to the kinds of legal questions the poor face: eviction, divorce, small claims, consumer protection issues, petty crime. These lawyers will volunteer to meet with you for a few minutes to an hour or so because a lot of people come to these clinics, so you won’t be getting all the information and advice you may want or need. And the same lawyers aren’t always at the clinics each time you show up. And some clinics may limit the amount of time you get to spend there, so that people don’t hog the free help.  

Finally, some jurisdictions have laws that provide for the possibility of your ex paying for your lawyer—while the case is pending, not after the case is over—if you can’t pay for one yourself while the case is pending. For example, in the jurisdiction where I practice law (Utah), there is this statute: 

30-3-3. Award of costs, attorney and witness fees — Temporary alimony. 

(1) In any action filed under Title 30, Chapter 3, Divorce, Chapter 4, Separate Maintenance, or Title 78B, Chapter 7, Part 6, Cohabitant Abuse Protective Orders, and in any action to establish an order of custody, parent-time, child support, alimony, or division of property in a domestic case, the court may order a party to pay the costs, attorney fees, and witness fees, including expert witness fees, of the other party to enable the other party to prosecute or defend the action. The order may include provision for costs of the action. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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