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Do I Need a Lawyer?

The American Bar Association offers resources for domestic abuse survivors navigating the legal system

  • January 23, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
Do I Need a Lawyer?

Survivors of domestic violence often wonder if they need a lawyer at some point and, if so, how to go about finding the right one. Whether or not you need to hire a lawyer depends on your specific circumstances. Lawyers can help with situations such as: [1]

  • Filing for divorce
  • Custody disputes
  • Securing a survivor’s assets, such as property
  • Understanding your legal rights as a survivor

Leaving Abuse With Your Children

You don’t need a lawyer to leave your abusive partner, but when children are involved, it’s best to take every precaution. Linda Lopez, Esq., a member of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, says abusive partners can cry custodial interference if you abscond with shared children. While most courts would see that removing them from an unsafe environment was in their best interest, acknowledges Lopez, laws vary by state and each situation is looked at on a case-by-case basis.

To protect yourself, she advises, “Reach out to a domestic violence organization or your local bar association and get legal advice given your specific facts, and ask what the best plan is for you. But, if you’re in imminent danger, say, at 8 o’clock at night, see if you can get into a shelter first, and consult with an attorney the next day.”

When it comes time to separate permanently from your abusive partner, a lawyer can help you secure the best outcome for yourself and your future. It is especially important to seek legal advice if your abusive partner has a lawyer.

The ABA, an organization of 410,000 voluntary lawyers and law students within the U.S., formed the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence in 1994 to increase access to justice for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. They offer training opportunities for their members so there are more, and better trained, lawyers out there ready to fight for the rights of violence survivors.

On their website under “Resources,” survivors can find helpful links including the American Bar Association Consumer’s Guide to Legal Help. After clicking your state, you can find a list of legal resources near you, such as your state’s laws and rights that pertain to domestic violence, lawyer referral, a guide to your state’s court system, a lawyer referral page and a database to find out if the lawyer you’re hiring is licensed and in good standing with the courts.

You can also find links to advocacy groups under “Useful Websites,” such as the National Center on Elder Abuse and the Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women.

Leaving your abuser may seem like a daunting task, but the number of resources out there to help is numerous. Take advantage of this help and arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Not only will it help you have the best outcome for your future, but it will bring with it a sense of empowerment as you take control of your new, healthier life.


[1]http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Pamphlets/DomesticViolence.aspx#19