I am often asked if someone getting out of a domestic violence relationship will need a lawyer for whatever reason. This is a very valid and important question when you finally get away from your abuser. But many victims were also denied financial stability or access to any money while in the relationship. So is a lawyer necessary?
This depends on the situation and every situation is different. I was very fortunate that when I finally decided to leave my abuser, he didnít fight me on anything. We had children but he hadnít worked in so long that he knew there was no chance of him getting custody away from me. Plus he admitted in front of the judge that he had abused me and the children. There was no way he was going to get the kids. I also filed a Domestic Violence Protection Order against him which gave me the right to stay in our apartment with the children.
Many are not as fortunate as I was with my situation. If you have children, a house, cars, bank accounts, etc, it would be in your best interest to get a lawyer to assist you in the process of getting out. If you are married to your abuser, the lawyer can start the divorce process for you during this time. Although many states have the process of getting a protection order set up so you do not need a lawyer.
If you can not afford a lawyer, one of the first steps you should take is contacting the Legal Aid Society if there is one locally to you. A womenís shelter or crisis helpline should be able to tell you how to get a hold of the Legal Aid Society. A womenís shelter may also have information on local lawyers that help someone in your situation pro bono (meaning they represent you and agree to be paid later). There are a lot of lawyers who will have your first consultation for free! You may also ask any lawyer if they will do something called ďlimited representationĒ. This means they will perform certain tasks for you such as looking over documents and advising, appear for you in court but not representing your whole case.
When you do find a lawyer you are comfortable with, you may find it difficult to talk about your situation. It is important to remember your lawyer is there to represent you, not judge you. If at any time you feel uncomfortable with your lawyer, you can fire him/her and find someone else. They are working for you not you for them. Writing down what has happened can help you make sure you arenít leaving anything important out that needs to be brought up in court. It can also give your lawyer a good overview of the situation and what questions to ask you to get more information.
This book provides stories of how women fought in court with domestic violence involved.