Clients may be able to leave their abuser and escape the immediate effects of abuse, but many of them share children with the person who hurt them and are unable to cut that person out of their life entirely. Survivors of abuse often do not want to resort to legal action of some sort, but may have to make the difficult decision to pursue a formal PFA or custody order.
“In family court, most litigants have very low incomes. Many clients don’t want to file for child support because it could potentially escalate the DV situation, but financially, they don’t have another choice,” Anne said. “In addition, by going to court, there is a third party involved and someone else makes the decision for you. The client needs to be able to talk all of their options over with a knowledgeable lawyer, so that they can assess which option is the safest for them.”
For many low-income individuals, involving the court in their family disputes, presents a host of other challenges, including: being able to take the time off from work, finding proper childcare, finding reliable transportation, and navigating a difficult legal system. However, for individuals with abuse cases, those concerns take a mental toll, as well. Many, if not all, have to decide if they want to face their abuser in court, and answer deeply personal questions without adequate support or legal representation.
There are numerous free services throughout Philadelphia that can provide a measure of relief for a number of these folks, including Women Against Abuse, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, VIP, and Congreso. These organizations can provide a safe haven to create a safety plan, and find a public interest/pro bono lawyer. Having free representation at court does not fix everything for survivors of domestic violence, but it gives the clients more options and can level the playing field.