By Sheila Pursglove
It’s enough to make Cupid break his arrows in two and throw his bow away.
Forget flowers, chocolates, and candlelight dinners. Southfield attorney Walter H. Bentley III—who calls his approach to divorce “heart-centered”—came up with the idea of giving away a free divorce for a Valentine’s Day contest. A lucky winner will be chosen today for a compelling and convincing story as to why he or she wants to sever the marital knot.
Around 600 miserably wed Michiganders put in entries on Bentley’s website by Tuesday’s deadline which probably made for a lot of unhappy reading for Bentley and his colleagues as they winnowed out a winner.
The pro bono divorce—which with hearings, paperwork, fees and expenses would usually cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000—is limited to an uncontested divorce with no or minimum child custody issues.
According to Bentley, he often gets clients who want to part company with their spouse but can’t afford to get a divorce. Hence the rather odd offer, apparently inspired when a student in his night school class celebrated her divorce with a party—which gave him the idea of doing something special for Valentine’s Day.
“I was absolutely surprised, I had no idea we’d get this number of responses,” he says. “In fact, at one point I was wondering if we’d get enough good candidates to have a wide range.”
One heart-breaking story was from a woman who was diagnosed with cancer—whereupon her husband up and left. Other issues have included breakups caused by domestic violence, financial difficulties, job loss, loss of a home, and more.
“Financial difficulties in a marital split tend to build on themselves,” Bentley says. “The couple is still married but may be living separately, now they have double the bills which makes things even worse.”
Bentley even heard of a spouse bringing a new partner to live in the marital home while the other spouse still lived there—quite the dysfunctional arrangement.
Bentley, a native of Atlanta and veteran of the U.S. Navy, earned an M.B.A. and J.D. from Wayne State University Business and Law School, respectively. He spent almost a decade as a Wayne County prosecuting attorney and began teaching at the University of Phoenix where he was honored as the 2009 “Professor of The Year” in the school of criminal justice.
Managing owner of a law firm he started in 2012, he aims to help clients successfully traverse this life transition and achieve a faster, healthier and happy divorce recovery. He offers flat fees based on a menu of services, a Comprehensive Divorce Evaluation, and a complimentary consultation. As he says on his website, “this is not your typical law firm.” An “All Encompassing Approach” addresses clients’ mental, financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, legal and interpersonal solutions, to help them thrive—not just survive.
“Divorce can be very emotional and difficult,” he says. “It’s very rewarding and satisfying to help people get past this bad part in their lives, and help them move on to better things. Sometimes people will give me a big hug after getting their divorce, they’re so happy to put this behind them and be able to move on with their lives.”
Bentley also handles criminal law, child support, custody, parenting time, estate planning, employment law, wrongful termination, probate, guardianship, and civil litigation. He also is owner of Bentley Prep LLC a test prep company that prepares students for the Law School Admissions Test and the Michigan Bar Exam.
He and his wife Stephanie share their Southfield home with their Yorkshire Terrier Milo.