For those of you who read my blog for custody litigation information, this book review is for you. DIVORCE BOOTCAMP FOR LOW- AND MODERATE-INCOME WOMEN, A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO NAVIGATING DIVORCE by Anna T. Merrill, Esq., does just what it says. It gives the reader detailed instruction to get you through a very difficult time.
Honestly, I don’t think I have ever seen such a comprehensive book on this subject. It’s well over 500 pages long and filled with information you need, even if you do have an attorney.
Why might this book be helpful to you even if you are represented?
Because attorneys sometimes forget that clients don’t always understand the “why” of their actions or the things they ask for. AND because it costs the client money every time they talk to their attorney. Typically, a five minute phone conversation gets billed for a quarter of an hour by the attorney’s office. If the attorney charges $200 an hour – that five minute phone call can cost $50. This book will help you to understand some of those “whys” without the expense.
Do you need an attorney or can you simply follow the steps in this book yourself?
Ms. Merrill herself advises VERY strongly that you have an attorney, if at all possible. As do I. I can’t stress how important this is if it’s at all possible. But we both know that sometimes a person is just unable to afford it. (Some may qualify for legal aid and I’ll have more info on that near the end of this post.) But if you are representing yourself, you MUST be aware that you are expected to behave like a lawyer even if you haven’t had the education. You have to know how to present evidence and what evidence is allowed. Even if what you have gathered would technically be allowable, if you haven’t gathered it correctly or don’t present it to the court and opposing attorney correctly, it can be tossed out.
And no — the judge isn’t being “mean” just because you’re representing yourself. Most judges I’ve known, are very easy on pro se litigants who are respectful and genuinely doing their best. BUT they have no choice but to follow the law. And for those that don’t know it — bad things can happen. Ms. Merrill’s book will help to guide you in the right direction and should help to minimize the damage.
What information is included in the book?
Tons! Section one alone is worth the cost of the book. In it, Ms. Merrill points out the reasons you need “to be prepared to financially stand on your own two feet and how to go about doing that”. She talks about documentation you need to gather, how to estimate child support and alimony (if you’re living in an alimony state), property, and most importantly (in my opinion) is why you need to “cut your unrealistic expectations down to size”.
Ms. Merrill also discusses red flags such as spousal abuse, custody disputes and some outright “dirty” tricks a spouse and opposing attorney can pull. She also goes into the “Legal Mumbo-Jumbo”, I refer to as legal-eze. It is its own language. Even after 20 years of reading court documents relating to family court, I still find myself saying, “Huh?” at times.
Mediation is also addressed in the book and is very important. That’s one of the reasons I said that about cutting your realistic expectations. Often times while doing custody investigations, clients screamed, “But I want my day in court!” without knowing exactly what that day would look like. It’s not anything like what you see on TV and usually both sides come away losers. In most cases, you, your spouse and your children (if you have any) are going to be much better off if you save the money you’d spend on litigation and make decisions for yourselves. This book gives you the tools to help you with mediation. (Of course there are cases, such as those involving abuse or substance abuse, that will require litigation, especially when involving children.)
Ms. Merrill also talks about what you can expect from court and what you can’t. This alone will save you much heartache, when you realize that there are just some things you’re not going to get.
Another benefit of DIVORCE BOOTCAMP is Ms. Merrill shows you sample forms you will need to know about. She also gives case examples (using fictitious names of course). She even walks you through a fictional case from the beginning. All very helpful information. (Caution: Ms. Merrill practices in Massachusetts, so things may be a little different in your state. It’s important that you use the correct state forms and know the state terminology. You can find information at a local law library and on the internet.)
I can’t possibly tell you what all is covered by this book because there is so much worthy information and this is getting too long as is. Here’s the back cover with information Ms. Merrill feels is important:
I posted a little bigger image so it would be easier to see. Click on the image to enlarge even more.
Now I said earlier I’d address legal aid. In most areas, due to the number of applications and lack of funding, organizations offering free or reduced legal services have had to cut back. Most will probably only take a case in the event of spousal/partner abuse and/or child abuse and neglect. Check with your local organizations to see what their guidelines are. You can search for “legal aid” and your county to find help in your area. I have more information about abuse and help in general in my post: Are You Safe at Home?
DIVORCE BOOTCAMP is full of information that will help you navigate through the chaos of divorce proceedings.
The best part is that it’s written in plain English that anyone can understand. A lot of books written by attorneys and judges are very dry and difficult to read. But not this book. Ms. Merrill speaks directly to the reader and makes it easy to find the information you need. I highly recommend this book. But remember, it is only a tool and if at all possible, you should consult with an attorney. While Ms. Merrill doesn’t and can’t guarantee you’ll win your case, at least you will be armed with much needed information before entering the courtroom.
Anna T. Merrill is a corporate-trained attorney who transitioned into family law. She has over a decade of experience serving low- and moderate-income families.
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