For survivors of intimate partner violence, having access to civil legal aid is often essential in allowing them to break the cycle of violence and abuse. MLSA Board Member Alissa Chambers recently shared why she thinks civil legal aid is so important in addressing domestic violence throughout Montana:
“As an attorney, I have seen firsthand the difference civil legal aid can make for someone trying to escape domestic violence. I was fortunate enough to meet Lynn (name changed for privacy) when she first realized she needed legal help. She was desperate and afraid. Even though she was only 32, she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and was struggling to cope with the treatments. At the same time, her home life was deteriorating as her husband became increasingly abusive and violent. Lynn couldn’t risk losing the health insurance she got through her husband, but she knew she couldn’t stay in her marriage any longer.
Crowley Fleck’s pro bono program partnered with Montana Legal Services Association to provide volunteer pro bono attorneys to help her with her complex case. Working with Lynn, our firm was able to obtain a legal separation from her husband instead of a dissolution, allowing her to keep her health insurance and continue receiving medical treatments. Lynn was also able to secure an Order of Protection against her husband to protect her from further physical and mental abuse
With the help Lynn received, she was empowered to leave her husband, later saying, “I think I would have given up at some point if there wouldn’t have been the light that there was at the time that there was. It was what I needed.” The legal assistance Lynn received meant that she could focus on her health and her life, enjoying the precious time she had left before cancer would ultimately take her life.
But too many domestic violence survivors are unable to access legal representation, and instead are forced to live in danger and instability as the need for civil legal aid far outweighs the funding available to provide these critical services. Resources are stretched too thin to provide civil legal aid to all Montanans, but unfortunately there is only enough funding and volunteers to provide limited services to most victims rather than the full representation that they need and deserve.”
In domestic violence cases like Lynn’s, receiving legal help from an attorney can make all the difference in whether or not someone is able to live a life free from abuse. Click here to read the full opinion piece in the Billings Gazette and learn more about the role civil legal aid plays in ending domestic violence.