Free & Low-Cost Legal Services for Divorce & Custody

See Also:  Divorce Without an Attorney ... Nolo Press (DIY) ... More Advice about Divorce & Custody

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  • I'm looking for someone located in the East Bay, preferably the El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley area.  The divorce is amicable, we were going to try and do it ourselves but felt overwhelmed with the process and need some guidance.  Also wanting this person to help with mediation as some custody concerns have come up.  The biggest issue is that neither of us have much in extra funds, so it would have to be someone affordable.  I've done some searching but everyone seems rather expensive. 

    I can't recommend Hello Divorce enough. It's extremely affordable (I recommend going for the flat fee instead of monthly because California courts take so long) and you can add a la carte mediation for your custody issue. Hello Divorce is a e-law platform with an incredible human touch: a case advisor will walk you through every step. 

    The East Bay Collaborative Practice group offers a free, 4-hour meeting for couples with limited resources who would like to try to resolve divorce-related issues without litigation:…

  • DIY Divorce

    Jan 25, 2021

    Hi all,

    I already checked the archives but couldn't find anything up-to-date or that really matched what I'm looking for. ISO recommendations/advice for a DIY divorce. Preferably something where the forms can be done online. We have been separated since July 1, 2009 and I have been paying child support since fall of 2009. I have one 17 year old who lives with me full time as of 2019 and I'm claiming him on my taxes. Prior to that my ex did. We want to do the divorce ourselves without a mediator or attorney - there is no property or other assets to divide. Any recommendations for online or other ways to simply get this done? Thanks.

    Check out “Hello Divorce” - many online forms. It was very helpful for me.  The founder is a great local family law attorney and very smart.

    Hi there.  My ex and I did a DIY divorce using the NOLO press book back in 2001.  It was really easy and if I recall for a small fixed fee there was a NOLO-associated attorney to answer the couple of items we still couldn't make sense out of.  So, so much cheaper to do it yourself, especially if you two are cooperating.  I think this link has essentially the updated version of what we used back then:  Good luck to you.

  • My adult child has been separated from his wife for over a year and wants a divorce. They have no kids and no assets to speak of. They were going to file uncontested but she has been dragging her feet so he just wants to proceed on his own. I was trying to help him but the paperwork is overwhelming. Can anyone recommend a low cost resource for a straightforward divorce? Thanks.


    I filed my own divorce papers a little over a year ago.  The courthouse in Hayward offers clinics to walk you through the daunting paperwork.  I used a free video series available from the Law Office of Cristin Lowe,  The videos were extremely helpful and the divorce was granted.    I hope this was helpful.  Best of luck to your son.

    Nolo Press in Berkeley has a lot of great resources from so-it-yourself divorce to estate planning. If you have no kids/assets it’s not a difficult process. Just takes time. Good luck. 

    We used "Divorce with Dignity"-- it's a document service, NOT a lawyer, but Cindy Elwell was helpful and efficient, it all went smoothly, and was a fraction the price of a lawyer.  This will work if uncontested (ie foot dragging is due to procrastination, not real issues...)  

    Cindy Elwell

    Divorce with Dignity-Alameda

    1151 Harbor Bay Parkway, Ste. 126B

    Alameda, CA  94502


Archived Q&A and Reviews


Free legal advice about child support?

March 2013

I desperately need some advice regarding cross state child support. I am a single mom and can't seem to make it to an actual on site clinic. I simply need to write out my story via email, and get some advice from a lawyer who deals with family law. Does anyone know of a lawyer who does a little pro bono work for people in need who might be able to advice me? Thank you! mom in need

Hi there, I've found that trying to find a pro bono attorney on your own is pretty much impossible. I'd highly recommend going through the CA Bar association's Volunteer Legal Sevices Program. They secured a fantastic pro bono attorney for me in three weeks. It's income-based (unsure of the limit) but i would definitely give them a try. Google them for contact info. Cristabel

Websites for general legal information

August 2008

Re: asking for legal advice on BPN
As a family law attorney and mediator, I want to higlight the ''Note from the Moderator'' regarding legal issues on BPN. The moderator states: ''Nothing in the digest should be construed as legal advice.'' While it is tempting to seek advice from BPN on legal issues, I have seen inaccurate and misleading advice given by lay people and professionals (non-lawyers) all to often. In fact, only licensed attorneys are allowed to provide legal adivce. In addition, each case is different, and there are many variables that must be taken into account when trying to ''guess'' as to how the court will rule on your specific family law issue.

I encourage folks to check out a few reputable websites for general legal information:

For low income folks, check out

For immigration issues:

Divorce lawyer for SAHM with no income

March 2008

I am looking for a divorce lawyer to help a friend who is a SAHM with no income. Some quick facts:
- Her husband left her while she was pregnant and went to work in China for an American company(even though there are many jobs here he could have taken he claims he couldn't find a job)
- He has always been verbally and mentally abusive to my friend and talks down about her to me (I IM with him on a regular basis but he doesn't know I know what's going on)
- Their son who is now a year old was born full term but had a long NICU stay and continues to have many issues.
- When he comes to visit he gets upset that the baby cries b/c he is constipated or sick and hits him and tells him to shut up
- Since moving to China he has not sent her a penny and has all his money in a bank in China
- She is living off her savings and some money her mother has given her
- He has access to her accounts and questions anything she buys or why money has been taken out
- He is threatening to take the baby away from her and take him to China and hire 2 full time nannies who he says will do a better job taking care of him than she does
- Her English is shaky and she is shy and he is taking advantage of this-trying to keep her down and keeping her in a constant state of being scared that he will take her son

Can any help me find someone who is low/no cost (or will accept payment after she gets money from her husband) that might be able to help her? Appreciate any help

You can tell her to call the SF Bar Associations VLSP ( to see if she qualifies for free legal services. Also they run a lawyer referral service if she can afford to pay some fees. anon

Tell your friend to contact Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. APILO is a public interest, non-profit law firm that has lawyers that will work with your friend on a sliding scale basis. They have offices in Oakland (510/251-2846) and San Francisco (415/567-6255) or email info[at] cme

If your friend's husband is hitting their one year old child, I would highly recommend she obtain a restraining order against him. If she qualifies, she could also obtain temporary custody, child support and spousal support. I recommend contacting Family Violence Law Center at 510-208-0255. I also recommend attorney Margaret Gannon who handles a lot of domestic violence/international custody cases. Her number is (510) 452-1700, but I have no idea if she could take a no/low fee case. anon

Help with custody issues for poor single mom?

Jan 2006

I am a single mom currently looking for work and in the the dual process of applying for calworks (foodstamps, childcare,transportation etc.) and filing for legal ''custody and support''. My husband (who moved in with his parents two years ago) works full time (he earns about 28,000 a year) and gives us health insurance (through his job) and $400.00 per month. He spends time with our five year old son on the weekends (from 11am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday) but otherwise I do all the child care (I buy food, clothes, toys etc., deal with teachers and doctors and have made the only home he's ever known.) My son has never spent the night away from me. I have not taken legal action before now because my husband is being treated for alcoholism, and I have been afraid of joint custody and/or losing my health insurance. I keep hearing ''you get what you pay for'' in terms of legal rep., but I am forced to rely on free legal advice (family court facilitators etc..) Has anyone had experience with these services or with pursuing custody and support while forced to rely on welfare? I know this is not the forum for such a question, that most reading this have no experience with our type of circumstances, but maybe someone out there has experience which can help me. Any advice or rec. regarding free legal services or what my rights are in this situation would be most appreciated. anon.

At the Alameda County courthouse in Downtown Oakland (I think it's 250 Fallon street) there is free support. The legal center is only open morning hours, so check first, but they are very helpful and can point you in the direction of free advice and services. I hope that helps.

My sympathies for being caught between a rock and a hard place. The Alameda County Bar Association has a panel of free and low cost attorney referrals and can be found at

I am an attorney and can tell you frankly that the qualifications of a lawyer cannot be reflected by their hourly rate. I have had cases against low paid non profit attorneys who were superb as well as high priced large firm attorneys (who by the way, mostly delegate the cases to 2 year associates) were not very good . For your situation I would recommend you ideally obtain an attorney who has been certified as a ''Family Law Specialist''. These are attorneys who, in addition to passing the bar, have focused their practice in family law and obtained additional certification for it. I would also ask how many cases they have taken to trial and mediations they have participated in. You are as entitled to an experienced qualified lawyer as Elizabeth Taylor, it just may take a wee more work. Investigating your prospective attorney is important. Google their name and check the State Bar for any licensing problems. Good luck. Lori

Please consider contacting the San Francisco Bar Association's Volunteer Legal Services Program. They have a Family Law division that should be able to help you. Most of the attorneys who work in for this program are volunteers from the legal community. Some are family law practitioners and some are not, but I think if a case is complicated, they take care to assign someone with experience. You can find information about consulting with VLSP at
Best of luck to you. Suzanne

Low cost divorce

May 2002

Hi, I need a lawyer who would help me in my divorce and does not asking alot because I don't have money. Until January 2002, when I filed a divorce, we lived seperately. I wanted to do divorce by myself but it is getting more difficult for me. He is responded on the last day; I did preliminary declaration of assets, etc. He did not responded, asked me for more time. Then he told me that it is difficult for him to do it and is getting a lawyer to do it. I don't know what to do now. Please tell me a person who would help me with a low fee or none. My salary is not much here. Thank you.

A good place to check out for a divorce lawyer is Law Center for Families, who provide free legal services to low-income clients. Their address is 510 - 16th St. Oakland CA94612 tel: 510 451 9261. Best of luck, dd

Jan 2000

I can't recommend an attorney but want to address your questions about alternatives and bypassing the lawyers. First, I suggest you check out the Nolo Press website section on divorce at / . It will help answer many of your questions. Nolo sells do-it-yourself books that are sufficient to do a very simple divorce. But before going that route, bear in mind the following important issues:
1) Finality of the divorce: many do-it-yourself divorcing couples fail to follow through on the paperwork needed to finalize a divorce. Initially you get what is called an interlocutory (i.e., while the legal action is pending) decree of divorce. You have to go back to court six months later to get a final decree or your divorce never legally occurs -- this can cause major hassles down the road if one spouse remarries.
2) If there are children involved, custody becomes an issue. Even if you think you and the other parent will always be able to handle these issues, things change. Get advice. There are many issues you wouldn't think of, such as whether the custodial parent will be able to move out of state later with the children, what visitation rights a parent who moves away will have, and many more.
3) Property division: Many people assume they have no property worth dividing. This may or may not be true. Equity in a house? Pension benefits? Potential patent/intellectual property rights? Stock in a start up?
4) Tax issues. There are tax implications and special (potentially favorable) rules applicable to the division of property in a dissolution. There are also deductibility issues relating to child custody -- who gets the exemption for the child, for example. Tim

In reply to the person needing info re: divorce and legal matters- I used a paralegal. My divorce was uncontested so we were able to work it out with a little help with paperwork. It was easier and cheaper even though we have a child and had to figure out custody issues. It ended up costing about $300. It is better for everyone if you can possibly cooperate. I know it is hard, nevertheless. Good luck and best wishes.

We had/have (we are in our final stage) Judith Joshel as our mediator and I can highly recommend her. One person here on the list already commented on how important it is to be your own advocate. I, too had some difficulties in this area and felt much better after consulting another attorney. Judith recommended Eva Herzer in Kensington, and I was/am VERY happy with her. As the other poster said, she does mediation, too. My ex also thought that we could do most of the divorce ourselves and we got the Nolo Press books How to do your own Divorce and How to settle Child Support. They helped to get informed but nothing more. There was still too much emotional stuff going on and a mediator was much needed. Elizabeth