For women living in poverty, the prospect of leaving a domestic violence situation can be daunting. For mothers, the obstacles to leaving can be even greater. Women trying to leave violent home lives face financial manipulation in addition to physical acts of violence. They also fear for their children’s safety, and face housing stability and immigration-related issues.
*Andrea, like so many of our clients, was a survivor of violence. She came to us in an act of bravery, seeking protection for her three young children. Andrea’s final straw involved an incident where her husband attacked her while she was holding her baby, and her other two young children witnessed the event. One child jumped on the father, trying to get him to stop. The family was traumatized by the event, and Andrea sought a 12 month TPO and had her husband removed from the home.
For Andrea and her children, their home was their safety net. Initially, the home had represented the hope for a new beginning. Andrea and her husband had purchased the home in foreclosure, for about $40,000. The home — valued at over $200,000 — would be a nest egg for their young family. After the violence and the protective order, the home became even more essential to the family’s stability.
Andrea came to Legal Aid for help with her divorce. For the time being, she was safe in the house with her kids. But her husband was behaving erratically. No one knew where he was staying, if he was working, if he had any income. Andrea was left caring for their three children alone. So step one was making sure that Andrea and her kids had the funds they needed to survive.
Legal Aid attorney Nilu Abdi-Tabari went to court with her and helped her get a temporary order for a significant amount of child support. Nilu also got Andrea full custody of the kids, with supervised parenting time for the father.
In early 2020, it came to light that Andrea’s husband had skipped several payments on the house. On the cusp of the pandemic, Andrea and her children were facing foreclosure and possible homelessenss. As Nilu explained, “As a single mom not getting child support, having stable housing at a low cost is their lifeline at this point. That’s the most important part of this: the safety and stability for these three children.”
The husband petitioned to have the house sold and the proceeds split between the two of them, which is not uncommon in a divorce. But Nilu and her team recognized that if that happens, he’s likely going to just run with the money. With his history of dodging child support payments, the Legal Aid team feared for what this would mean for Andrea and her kids.
Eventually, after much struggle, all parties come to an agreement on the divorce. They go in front of a judge and agree that Andrea will keep the home and take on the $30,000 loan on the house. But within a few days, the husband is unwilling to sign the agreement.
At this point, Andrea hasn’t received child support in months. The clock is ticking on the foreclosure; she’s going to lose her house. And her kids are facing homelessness.
Knowing they have to act fast, Legal Aid attorneys turn around and file a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. They have to go to court to see if they can hold the husband to this agreement even though he’s refusing to sign it.
The judge sided with Andrea and her kids, granting Legal Aid’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement in regards to the home. Now, Andrea has the home and also has some child support as well.
It’s hard to explain how important this was for her. We could all see the writing on the wall when it came to the home. We knew that at some point, [the husband] was going to stop paying his child support; he was already really behind. Andrea was trying to get back out into the workforce. She’s got three small kids. Housing expenses plus the cost of putting three children in daycare is crushing — especially when you know you’re not going to have help.
So we had this family that was relatively stable that is now going to be facing potential homelessness and additional crises. So when we got that order that gave her the house, that became the safety and stability that we always hope for with our clients.
Divorce can be especially destabilizing for families living in poverty, with the loss of one income and often the loss of stable housing. So the home meant both immediate relief and long-term stability for Andrea. In the future, should she face any kind of economic crisis, she could sell the home and know that she and her kids would be okay.
It’s almost #GivingTuesday, and we need your help.
Did you know that women aren’t guaranteed lawyers in domestic violence situations? That means that victims either have to go it alone, or have to find funds to hire a lawyer themselves. This can be an impossible task since financial manipulation goes hand in hand with domestic abuse.
That’s why we need you.
Studies show that lawyers are the best way to prevent future violence. You can help get free lawyers to women living in poverty, by making a donation to Legal Aid this #GivingTuesday. Your dollars have a direct impact on survivors and their children. With your help, victims can leave abusive situations and keep their children safe. Please make a donation now at: http://give.atlantalegalaid.org/givingtuesday (all donations will be matched up to $20,000!)