Split decision: Attorney picks two 'lucky' winners for free divorces


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

St. Valentine would no doubt spin in his grave at the thought of a contest celebrating St. V’s Day that offered a pro bono divorce.

Nevertheless, the somewhat off-the-wall contest offered by Southfield attorney Walter H. Bentley III brought in hundreds of stories from Michigan residents eager to unravel their marital ties.

In fact, after plowing through stories of financial difficulties, illness, job loss and more, Bentley — owner of the Law Offices of Walter H. Bentley III, PLLC —  decided to double the prize.

“After receiving close to 600 submissions, we narrowed it down to two people. We just couldn’t decide who to choose. I made a decision to give both of them a free divorce,” Bentley says.

The winners were Debi Cloonan of Hazel Park and Dearborn resident Tara Fleek, each winning pro bono divorces that would usually cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000
Cloonan’s marriage ran into trouble after the death of her youngest son Brandon.

“Losing Brandon was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to cope with,” Cloonan wrote in her winning entry. “John and I shut each other out and tried to deal with the loss on our own. Our son’s death caused strain on our marriage. The strain led to us separating. I have raised our children and supported them to the best of my ability. With one daughter in law school and one graduating high school this spring, the little money I do make goes towards supporting my wonderful children. John and I are civil and have nothing to fight over.
The fees to file are not within my budget. Receiving a free divorce would provide me with the opportunity to move on with my life. This would be the greatest gift I could receive for Valentine’s Day.” 

After Fleek’s best friend e-mailed her information about the free divorce contest, she thought she would give it a shot. Married for 5 years, Fleek and her husband Greg have been separated for more than 3 years.

“We have been struggling to make ends meet financially, and due to this we couldn’t afford a divorce, besides that we wanted to wait until we were eligible again to file for bankruptcy so neither of us were hit with any debt when we divorced,” Fleek wrote in her contest submission. 

She and her husband will be using most of their tax refund to start the bankruptcy this month, she wrote.

“I work really hard and do a great job being a full time mom and a full time worker, this would mean a great deal to both of us. Greg and I are on great terms and have nothing to contest, I will be getting full custody of our son, but we have no assets or anything to complicate our divorce. I have been struggling for the past couple years to make ends meet, but I do believe in ‘Good things come to those who wait.’”

Although the contest is over, Bentley invites unhappy spouses to tell the circumstances of their marriage, at his website www.wbentleylaw.com. Participants will receive special offers from his firm as well as a free consultation with an attorney, as will the hundreds of people who entered the contest.


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