Overcoming Adversity and Long Legal Odds, the Center’s Client Prevails

Escaping the violence of an abusive husband and a war torn country, Mary* created a new life and family in Los Angeles. Early in her second marriage, she learned that her first husband was not dead as she had believed. With her new spouse’s help, she immediately obtained a divorce decree. After 30 years of marriage in the U.S., the dream ended when her husband left her, filed for divorce and claimed they were never legally married so he owed her nothing. Mary was devastated. She needed legal help to prove their marriage, but she could not afford it on the little money she earned from cleaning buildings part-time.

After Mary found the Center, Jack McMorrow, a Center law student intern at the time and currently of Harris· Ginsberg, LLP, had to figure out a “lot of puzzles” in her case. He spent many hours interviewing her, researching the disputed marriage issue and drafting legal arguments to support Mary’s case. Then, with some expert guidance from Judge Robert Schnider, (Ret.), the Center learned of recent case law that supported Mary’s case. With Mary’s input, Mr. McMorrow uncovered more facts that helped strengthen her case.

Prepared with the in-depth research and investigation by Jack, volunteer attorney Heather Graham agreed to represent Mary and successfully convinced the judge that she had well-placed beliefs in the validity of her second marriage after terminating the first with her spouse’s full cooperation, and thereafter lived with him as husband and wife for many years. Ms. Graham then engineered a favorable settlement guaranteeing Mary’s share of her husband’s retirement money, securing a sizeable spousal support order and resolving the disputed marriage issue.

Mary told Ms. Graham that she could not “find the words” to express her gratitude for being able to live fully and “survive” into retirement age. The admiration was mutual; Ms. Graham marveled at Mary’s resilience and independence after she found a better job and opted to voluntarily reduce spousal support.

*Client’s name changed to protect her privacy.