Jade sought help from Timpanogos Legal Center when her ex-husband filed a Petition to Modify seeking joint physical and legal custody of their youngest child, who was unborn at the time of the divorce. He also filed a Motion for Temporary Orders.
Jade was divorced in 2013. She received custody of their child. During the divorce proceedings she learned that she was pregnant. The unborn child was never mentioned in the Decree of Divorce. She did not know it was possible to amend the petition during the course of the divorce proceedings to include the unborn child.
Jade and her ex-husband continued to live together for six months after the birth of the child, but she was the one who primarily took care of the child. When her ex-husband left, he didn’t seek parent time with the children for two years. When he re-entered the lives of Jade and the children, he made demands about when he wanted to see them. Jade did her best to facilitate open parent time, believing that it was important for the children to develop a good relationship with their father. The father was seeing the children almost every weekend, but there was almost always conflict. Jade learned about the statutory parent time schedule and felt like there would be less conflict if she didn’t have to interact with him during the parent exchanges every single weekend. When she suggested a new schedule for parent time, instead of “on demand” parent time, he filed the Petition to Modify and requested Temporary Orders. His statement in support made it sound as though he had been the primary caretaker of the children.
Jade was very alarmed after being served. It seemed devastating after everything she had done to cooperate with the father of the children. She didn’t have the money to pay for an attorney while he was represented by counsel. She was very frightened about what would happen if she didn’t have an attorney to help her.
Jade learned about the Timpanogos Legal Center Document Clinic and went through the screening process. By the time she contacted TLC she only had a short time left to respond, and it was over Thanksgiving break, which would be a very difficult time to find a volunteer attorney to help.
Regardless of the time crunch, TLC took the case and helped her file an answer and counterclaim to the Petition to Modify and a response and countermotion to the Motion for Temporary Orders. Armed with legal advice, and an understanding of the process, and solid documents that laid out her case, Jade came to a stipulation with the opposing attorney that worked out well for the children, for Jade, and for the father of the kids.
Jade is extremely grateful for the legal help she received at a critical time for her and the children
Bessy’s ex-husband quit his job a year and half ago, flatly refusing to pay the court ordered child support, alimony and car payment granted in the Decree of Divorce. Bessy is currently going back to school to become a social worker and she works as a server at Olive Garden. She had been a stay at home mom with a comfortable lifestyle prior to the divorce. Without the court ordered support she struggled to pay for necessities. Her church helped her for a while, but couldn’t support the family long term. Bessy was out of options. She couldn’t afford an attorney. She describes the feelings of despair she experienced as she tried to find ways to stay in school and still meet the expenses of the family with no financial support from the father of her children. She started to feel that there was no hope.
One day Bessy discussed her situation with one of her teachers who happens to be the Director of our local Family Justice Center. She encouraged Bessy to come to the clinic to talk with an attorney from Timpanogos Legal Center. Bessy thought there was no way that a one-time meeting could possibly make a difference in her bleak situation, but she was out of options and so she came to the Family Justice Center clinic one Tuesday night.
Bessy was emotional with gratitude when she left the clinic because of the kindness shown to her by the volunteer attorney from Timpanogos Legal Center. She couldn’t believe what a difference one session could make in her life. In describing her experience that night she said, “After speaking with the lawyer at the clinic, a huge burden was lifted knowing that I had answers and I also felt empowered knowing that I had their assistance. I learned about all of these phenomenal resources that are available to me that I had no idea existed. I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders as I learned that I had options.”
Bessy summarized her experience like this, “It was like night and day when I learned how to change my situation. I am extremely grateful for the help that I have received at the clinic and I am so impressed that such a valuable resource is offered to our community.”
Cristina* is the mother of three kids. She speaks Spanish and very little English, which has been a very big barrier for her. In her Decree of Divorce she was given sole custody of the three kids. Two years later, when the two oldest boys started getting into trouble the parents decided that the boys should go and spend extended time with father who had moved to Arizona. The Decree was never modified. A few months later when Cristina tried to get the boys back, father refused to return them. Cristina had no way to get to Arizona to pick up the boys. She went to the Court Clerk to ask for assistance in getting her sons returned to her, but they could not assist her and she did not receive any referrals. She did not know where to go for help. She saved her money to go to Arizona with a copy of her Decree. After she went to the school and showed them a copy of the Decree giving her full custody they called the police. The officer told her they would not let her take her sons since they had been in Arizona for 16 months by that point, despite the fact the father had no court order. Cristina saw her younger son at the school. He had lost weight and did not look very healthy. The son had previously reported to her by phone that the dad and stepmom were seldom home, didn’t prepare meals, and he had seen drug paraphernalia in the home and he suspected that the parents used drugs. After Cristina went to Arizona the father cut off phone contact with the children.
When Cristina returned to Utah she looked for legal assistance to help her get her sons. She had no money to hire an attorney. She learned about Timpanogos Legal Center. Cristina was paired with a wonderful pro bono attorney who worked together with staff from TLC to assist with translation and mentoring as he prepared the documents. The documents required some sophistication to prepare because of the many issues involved which included alleged drug use on the part of father and his stepmom, two jurisdictions, the length of time that elapsed while father had physical possession of the children, back child support, and so forth.
The attorney and TLC staff prepared the Order to Show Cause documents with a request for Pick Up Order. TLC is making efforts to find a pro bono attorney who can appear with her in court. Cristina has expressed her appreciation to her attorney who has put in hours of work trying to put the facts together. She had nowhere to turn and it would have been impossible to attempt to get her sons back without the help of an attorney. Her pro bono attorney is in-house counsel and has never appeared in court or he probably would have been willing to go to court with her, although that is not a service we typically offer through the Document Clinic.
Thomas *—I initially met him at the Family Justice Center clinic. His long-term girlfriend and mother of his two children had left him to live with her boyfriend. She left the two kids as well as her daughter from a previous marriage. Thomas tried for several months to reconcile with her, all the while taking care of all three kids. The day Thomas came into the Family Justice Center clinic, his ex-girlfriend told him she had contacted a lawyer and was planning to take full custody of the children. Thomas felt very discouraged because he had been turned away from other resources for legal advice because he isn’t a documented resident. I qualified him for the document clinic. I drafted a parentage petition and temporary orders to ensure that there would be a legal document in place in case the mom tried to get the kids and not let them return to Thomas. Just as we were about to file, the ex-girlfriend’s attorney contacted him. Over the phone, he was trying to encourage Thomas to give up the kids and let his ex-wife have custody. Thomas served the attorney with our document clinic paperwork, stating that he wanted custody. The case is not resolved yet, but Thomas was so grateful, especially as a Spanish speaker, to have help drafting these important documents that would ensure that he would not simply have his kids taken away without any recourse.
Alex initially connected with (Timpanogos Legal Center) over our phone hotline. His ex-wife had custody of the kids and was not allowing him his regular parent time. In a conversation that Alex managed to have with one of his daughters, she said that there were strangers coming over to the house at all times during the day and night. He also found that his ex-wife had not taken the two sisters to school in over a week. Alex was finally able to see his kids. When he went into his ex-wife’s house, there were needles and other evidence of drug use. Through Timpanogos Legal Center’s document clinic, Alex was able to receive assistance with temporary orders, also a Petition to Modify which would give him custody of his daughters. The temporary orders that were drafted by the staff and volunteer attorney, enabled him to get short-term custody of his kids to ensure that they were in a safe place and able to attend school.
Alex sent an email a couple of weeks ago stating that the court had agreed with his Petition to Modify and awarded him sole custody of the girls. He expressed gratitude for the document clinic and our ability to help him in this important case.
*The client’s name has been changed.
Financial support. A client needed help in figuring out the child support numbers in a messy modification case. The client sent us feedback: “Thank you for your help and quick response! This is very helpful!” Getting help at the right moment can make all of the difference to a person who needs to write an answer or file a response.
Protecting rights. One of our staff attorneys described a situation that illustrates the need for an attorney to balance the power by educating the clients on their rights. This is what she described, “A lady came into the Ogden clinic a couple of months back. She had been married 17 years and wanted to get divorced. He had her believing the house was his because it was in his name. And the cars. And the furniture. All his. She had made a little to-go bag with some soap and a roll of toilet paper in it and he yelled at her and said she was stealing from him. She was on the verge of leaving him to stay with a daughter. She was struggling to find work, having been a stay-at-home wife (per his wishes) for 17 years.” The TLC attorney concluded, “It was wonderful to clue her in on her rights. Half of everything, including retirement was hers. Alimony also a very real possibility. Her eyes got bigger and bigger as I explained.” Without consulting an attorney, she might have believed him and signed paperwork that could not be undone.
Physical protection and safety. In April of 2019 a woman contacted us for help in obtaining a stalking injunction against a former boyfriend. He has been harassing her, her friends, family, and ecclesiastical leaders. We gave her advice and drafted her paperwork for her. She filed it with the court and per our suggestion received representation at the hearing through Utah Legal Services. She was both relieved and excited when she got the stalking injunction. It is much more difficult to get a stalking injunction than it is to get a protective order and so the drafting of the paperwork is critical. One of the most important outcomes was that the client was empowered by this process. She told the TLC attorney how grateful she was and how much safer she feels.
Custody & Parenting Plans. We had been working with a man who had been involved in a highly contentious divorce case. His wife frequently denied him his court ordered parent-time without giving a reason. His higher paying job was eliminated and he had to take a lower paying job and could not afford an attorney. He was working with a Special Master who was slow to respond to requests for help. He frequently came to the Family Justice Center for advice, then he would go to work on applying the advice, coming back for help when he got stuck. One night at the Family Justice Center he stayed in the waiting room after all the clients had left even though he had talked to an attorney earlier in the evening. He looked at our Executive Director and said, “Do you know what you do here?” She paused to see where this was going and he continued with a trembling voice, “You give hope.” He returned a short while later to report that he had followed our advice and the Special Master resigned because she was too busy and she helped him find another good Special Master who would be available to work out problems.
More on hope and compassion. An email came just this week from a client that summarizes the gratitude expressed by many: I can’t say in words how grateful I am to this truly good group of people who volunteer their time. Thank you.
As I’ve sat for hours with other people who have come to seek out a thread of encouragement, I know it can’t be easy for you to peek into and witness the pain of those whose most challenging life experiences are exposed. It can be heartbreaking and I want to recognize the uniquely compassionate and strong group that you are. I’m grateful for your desire and ability to touch so many lives and provide little rays of hope to so many. My life has been changed for the better because of you care, sometimes when no one else does.