Tips for finding free legal assistance
You have made a difficult decision to leave your abusive relationship. Whether you have planned to leave over a longer amount of time or need to escape a terrifying situation immediately, the circumstances surrounding your departure might be a bit tricky. You need legal help, but as a Solo Mom, you’re a bit strapped for cash. Trying to figure out what kind of legal assistance you might need and when can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re looking to obtain it for free. Where do you start?
I spoke with Natasha R. Johnson, the founder and executive director of the international nonprofit organization Globalizing Gender, who has worked extensively with Solo Moms to battle gender-based violence through education. She has also advocated for immigrants who were victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and/or human trafficking. Below are the six tips she shared with us that could be useful in helping Solo Moms find free legal assistance when trying to leave an abusive partner.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE ) is available 24 hours a day, and you can call anonymously and speak to a trained advocate for information on any kind of legal assistance. They are not lawyers and do not give legal advice themselves; however, they can help you find resources in your area and offer safety planning services. In some circumstances, they may request a number to have someone reach you. You can give an advocate your own number along with a specific time to call you back, or you can give the number of a trusted friend if you feel it will help you safely get the information you need.
- You can also go through one of the hotline’s affiliate organizations, WomensLaw.org, which provides planning tips, local resources, and how to find care for your child(ren) during the process. Johnson recommends that if you’re using a home computer or your cell phone to remember to close your tabs and clear your browser history, delete your searches, and/or elicit the help of a friend.
- In New York City, there is a Family Justice Center in every borough that contains free access to legal support, clinical help, counselors, advocacy, and assistance. Within these centers you will find an integrated court system where a judge presides over family, divorce, and criminal issues all in one. They have a playroom for children and can provide services in more than 30 different languages. The Family Justice Center Alliance is putting together a national list of affiliate centers that will be available soon.
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, most local legal-aid agencies provide free (or low-cost) services for domestic-violence victims. For example, the Chicago Legal Clinic and Dade Legal Aid in Miami offer full services for free.
- Some established law schools, such as Georgetown Law, have a legal clinic but take only a few clients per semester. These clinics might be able to assist you in where to find free or low-cost legal services in your area.
- Most states and counties have a section on their websites for obtaining legal help, specifically for those seeking help dealing with or escaping domestic violence. For example, California has information about finding a lawyer, as does Dane County in Wisconsin. In some states such as New York, you can go to family court without a lawyer and get a temporary order of protection, but getting the support of a lawyer or domestic-violence advocate is often advantageous, so be sure to check with your local court system for options.
Johnson suggests that obtaining the help of a lawyer or legal advocate (such as a social worker) will help you navigate the system, see facts clearly, and present the causes of action impartially so that the full extent of the law can be used to your advantage. You have likely been through a host of complicated feelings and trauma that can sometimes impair your judgment. As a Solo Mom, you have done the tough work of getting out; now it’s time for someone to help you strategize your legal options so you can move forward.
Sister Chat is a great place to find out how other Solo Moms in similar situations found legal aid.
Tanisha Christie is an interdisciplinary performing artist and filmmaker. After years of working at the nexus of arts, media, social justice, and healing, she is currently finishing her master of social work (clinical specialization) at Hunter College in New York City. A child of a Solo Mom, she loves to ride her bike to the beach.
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