Domestic violence often brings legal concerns into survivors’ lives. For the first time, an individual may need to figure out how to secure an order of protection, navigate child custody and divorce, understand criminal charges, property rights, or file legal motions regarding employers and housing. It can easily be overwhelming.
The Syms Legal Momentum Helpline is a unique resource for anyone looking for legal help, focusing on gender-based discrimination and violence in education, employment and the home. Individuals facing legal issues, including survivors, as well as attorneys, can contact the Helpline via email, an online web form or phone. When prompted, callers provide a brief summary of their issue and submit a request for legal assistance. The Helpline is not a live service like a hotline, but will return inquiries within two business days.
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Each year, Legal Momentum takes on a handful of groundbreaking cases themselves. Additionally, they provide hundreds of people with referrals, informal advocacy and information. They aim to provide callers with a referral to an organization in their county or state that can provide legal help to survivors seeking supportive services such as creating a safety plan, finding transitional housing, securing an order of protection or obtaining representation for a divorce or child custody hearing involving a domestic violence situation.
As part of this referral process, they often provide informal advocacy. For instance, they may look at the details of the case and provide information about laws and rights, which may help survivors advocate for themselves. Their perspectives can help survivors know what kind of lawyer they need and the best course of action for their case.
Hiring a lawyer is expensive, and it can be hard to know whom to trust. A survivor may wonder:
- When does it make sense to represent myself in court?
- Do I need a lawyer?
- Where can I find the right lawyer?
- How do I find a lawyer who knows and cares enough about domestic violence to work well on my case?
- What do I ask a lawyer, to make sure this person is right for me and my case?
- How do I prepare to testify?
As an example, a survivor may be thinking about an order of protection only when they could also consider filing criminal charges or protecting child custody or property rights. The helpline can also let survivors know about their rights as an employee facing domestic violence.
Mireille Martineau, program manager at Legal Momentum, runs the helpline. She mentions that while the organization gears its advocacy and services to women and girls, they “focus on issues involving gender-based discrimination. This means that if a man calls seeking assistance on a relevant case, for example, he was retaliated against or terminated or prevented from taking parental leave by his employer, we would certainly assist him.”
Martineau adds that “most people feel overwhelmed when they are facing legal challenges, and just speaking with someone who understands their situation and can orient them seems to make all the difference in the world. They usually are not sure about their options or even—sometimes—what kind of lawyer they need. We can help.”
Below, find additional Internet resources to help with legal dilemmas related to domestic violence.
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More Resources for Legal Help
- Avvo.com has online guides to various aspect of domestic violence including information on custody, orders of protection, and filing criminal charges. (Attorneys pay for their listings here, so be careful about finding your lawyer through this website).
- The Battered Women’s Justice Project website contains tremendous information and resources for survivors and their attorneys concerning every imaginable aspect of domestic violence. Although the name of the project has the word “women” in it, the materials are relevant to all who are impacted by domestic violence (including trafficking and coercive control).
- FreeFrom is a national organization that aims to “dismantle the nexus between intimate partner violence and financial insecurity.” The primary service they offer survivors, at this point, is their Compensation Compass, which survivors can log into to find financial support.
- The National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project website has numerous resources, trainings, frequently asked questions, and the text of federal and state laws related to immigrant women. Here, immigrant women can learn how to apply for a U visa, and much more.
- The Victims of Crime Resource Center website contains a range of resources related to victims of domestic violence (as well as sexual assault, child abuse, etc.). They offer state-by-state information about relevant laws and a toll-free number and a live chat for additional help.
- WomensLaw, a website of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), has a list of state laws, local organizations, and even court forms that may be able to help you with your specific concerns. Their motto: “Plain language legal information for victims of abuse.”
Your community domestic violence agency can also probably make a solid local referral, including, sometimes, lawyers who will work with you for free (“pro bono”) on your domestic violence-related case. Search for a domestic violence program in your area here. But sometimes, survivors will still struggle to find help.
This link will provide you with even more resources for legal assistance. Most survivors tangle with the legal system for the first time when they are trying to break away from a domestic abuser. Please know, you do not have to do it alone—there are people out there who can help.
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