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Woman denied divorce because she couldn't afford interpreter

The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the case of a Smith County woman who claims she was denied a divorce because she was unable to prepay for a court interpreter. The woman brought the civil complaint against the state 321st District Court for restricting her access because of her language barrier.

The woman's attorney says her client, a non-English speaking housekeeper with three small children, attempted to proceed with a divorce from her abusive husband, who was in jail for aggravated assault.

The complaint says the woman was denied court access over the payment of an interpreter, after the district court refused to foot the bill, citing a state law. The interpreter would not participate in the 2009 divorce action without prepayment. The case was moved to a dismissal docket. The indigent woman's lawyer appealed to the state's 12th Court of Appeals, which denied the motion.

The Texas Association of Counties sided with the court in a friend of the court brief, saying courts are not required to pay for interpreters in civil actions. The association felt that the woman's attorney could have effectively represented her without the need for an interpreter.

A federal complaint was filed this fall with the Justice Department that stated the divorcing woman was unable to participate in the legal action without an interpreter. It declared that the woman spouse might need an interpreter in future proceedings to establish child custody or deal with potential domestic abuse issues.

The woman finally received a divorce one year ago after paying $170 to a court interpreter. The payment was pulled together from "very limited resources," according to the woman's attorney, but that does not change the fact that she had to live with more threats of domestic violence. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney could go a long way toward being able to convince a court how badly a divorce in a case like this is needed.

Source: KCEN TV, "Smith County civil rights complaint under review," Dayna Worchel, Dec. 5, 2011

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