Through a number of partnerships and projects at each organization, New Hampshire victims of domestic violence can turn to NHLA and LARC for legal protection from abuse.
LARC operates a divorce and parenting hotline where clients are coached over the telephone on how to handle their own legal cases. NHLA attorneys represent victims of domestic violence in restraining order proceedings and related divorce, child support, custody and visitation disputes. LARC also works with pro-bono volunteer attorneys to secure representation for eligible low-income victims of domestic violence at final restraining order hearings.
One day, “Maria’s” estranged husband handed her a divorce petition and other paperwork, and demanded she sign. The 54-year-old from Nashua, who speaks and reads only Spanish, was stunned. Everything was written in English; it had been prepared by her husband’s attorney and looked frighteningly official and final. Maria dared not ask him what the paperwork said. Instead, she contacted the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC) for help.
LARC’s Spanish-speaking family law attorney Jeff Goodrich arranged for Maria to make an office visit. At LARC’s Concord office, she could explain, in person and in her own language, her very personal and painful story:
Maria’s husband left her about a year ago, after 27 years of marriage during which he was often controlling and abusive. After leaving, he maintained a comfortable lifestyle with a substantial income, while she moved to a small apartment with their adult daughter and struggled financially working long hours at a minimum wage job. And now, he demanded she sign these divorce papers with no questions asked.
After reviewing the documents, Jeff explained what each one meant and, most significantly, advised Maria not to sign the papers, as her husband and his attorney were proposing that she waive all claims to spousal support.
With input from Maria, Jeff drafted revised paperwork for her husband’s attorney to review. The new proposed terms included a reasonable request for spousal support. Jeff assured Marie he’d also be asking the Pro Bono Program to find a volunteer attorney to represent her in the court action that was likely to ensue.
“Todo tu conocimiento y amabilidad me han dado fuerza,” Maria told Jeff as their session came to an end. “Creo que se hace el trabajo de Dios aquí.”
(“All your knowledge and kindness have given me strength. I think God’s work is done in this place.”)
Julie's Legal Aid Success Story
Julie didn’t realize it until she tried to get away, but her abusive boyfriend had spent years gradually isolating her. After she moved in with him in the North Country, he made it almost impossible for her to see friends or family, or work and save money of her own.
Then came the day he threw pieces of wood from the wood-splitter at her, leaving her with a concussion and bloody head wound.
“He had thrown things at me before, glasses, dishes, furniture,” Julie said. “You never think it’ll get to that place, but it did. I knew it had to stop.”
With help from NHLA, Julie petitioned for and received a protective order, child support and a court order allowing her and the children to stay in the house to finish the school year.
Too often, survivors don’t know what support they can request from the court. Without appropriate support, they often feel they have to choose between being homeless, or returning to the abuse.
“That’s just not something I could have done on my own,” Julie said. “Thank God for legal aid. He had a lawyer, and I was so afraid to go to court to face them. Legal aid was the only solution when I had no one else to turn to.”
Julie’s ex continued to harass her through the court’s order allowing him supervised visitation with their daughter. As required, Julie quickly filed paperwork at the nearest supervised visitation center. But her ex refused to comply with the center’s requirements, and instead yelled at the center staff.
Julie soon found new affordable housing. But given her ex’s behavior regarding the visitation and his refusal to attend court-ordered batterer’s intervention classes, she was still concerned for her safety.
Her NHLA advocate drafted a motion to extend the protection order before it expired. To support her request, Julie convinced the visitation center staff to write a letter about the aggressive way he spoke to them. The Court extended Julie’s protection order for another year.
“You can say it’s just a piece of paper, but it gives me peace of mind and it’s helping us rebuild. It’s helping us start over.”
Elizabeth's Legal Aid Success Story
Elizabeth was just 20 years old when her boyfriend, who had been abusing drugs, attacked her while she held their infant son. She knew she had to leave and get legal protections for herself and her son.
After she worked with an NHLA attorney through dozens of hearings, a judge ruled in Elizabeth’s favor and granted her a final protective order barring her ex from contacting them.
“I loved my son’s father. So it was great that (my advocate) didn’t only deal with the legal aspect of my case. When I was crying and saying I wanted to call him and drop the restraining order, she was there to tell me it would be okay and I could be strong. She was a huge support for me and my family. I might have done okay on my own, but I wouldn’t know for a fact that my son is going to be safe.”
With the help of her family, Elizabeth has been able to continue her education, and is planning to become a public interest lawyer helping low-income clients and domestic violence survivors, just like her NHLA advocate.
“After dealing with all of this, I realized I wanted to be able to help people who are in that same situation, who can’t fight for themselves,” she said. “I want to fight for them because someone fought for me.”