Volunteer Attorneys and Paralegals Provide Crucial Support to Domestic Violence Survivors

Monica Sutherland | May 30, 2019

Attorney and Paralegal Volunteers

Robin describes herself as “feeling as broken as you can get” when she first came into seek services at Family Tree’s Legal Advocacy. This feeling that Robin described is not an uncommon feeling for many survivors of domestic violence, especially those who choose to pursue their case legally through a Protection Order, divorce, or custody matter.

Family Tree Legal Advocacy focuses on supporting survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking through divorce, custody and protection order processes. Located in the Jefferson County Courthouse, Family Tree Legal Advocacy provides survivors access to comprehensive legal support by providing paperwork, assistance filing paperwork with the courts, court accompaniment and more.

One essential resource Family Tree Legal Advocacy provides survivors is a free bi-weekly legal clinic, where survivors can consult with a volunteer attorney or paralegal about their divorce and custody case. While our advocates can provide guidance and support to survivors in Jefferson County, our team does not include attorneys, which makes the legal clinic a vital resource for our program to have other avenues to provide survivors with access to comprehensive legal support. For many clients, the time spent at the legal clinic is invaluable, as it provides access to often financially inaccessible comprehensive legal support.

Volunteer attorneys and paralegals are the key component to Family Tree’s legal clinic. According to recent studies, the income group with the highest divorce rate (about 38%) are adults making $20,000 or less per year. About 64% of the survivors served by Family Tree Legal Advocacy fall into that income group. The average cost of a divorce attorney is about $15,000. Access to lawyers and assistance through a typical divorce and custody process can be practically unattainable for many low-income individuals. Yet, the divorce process itself can be far too complicated to navigate without legal assistance, especially when domestic violence is present.

The role of volunteer attorneys and paralegals at Family Tree’s legal clinic is provide clients feedback on their case, empowering them with knowledge and advice on how to best move their case in a direction that is equitable and safe.  Volunteer paralegals also provide assistance through helping draft parenting plans, financial documents, and many other types of documentation. Without these generous gifts of volunteer time and expertise, survivors served by Family Tree Legal Advocacy would not be able to access life-changing legal guidance that can only be provided by attorneys and paralegals and can significantly impact their safety and stability.

Of the 52 survivors that attended Family Tree’s legal clinic in the past year, 90% reported they know more ways to plan for their safety. Additionally, 94% reported an increase of knowledge of available community resources.

Robin is one of the many Family Tree clients who benefitted from the legal clinic: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Family Tree. They helped me navigate the system and believe in myself. I never felt judged and they were so genuine.” Robin was impressed that she “wasn’t treated cookie cutter,” and that she got the individualized attention to her case she needed to go forward.

If you or anyone you know is interested in attending a legal clinic or volunteering as an attorney or paralegal, please contact Family Tree Legal Advocacy at (303) 271-6559.