Legal Services Help Solve Legal and Life Challenges of Domestic Violence Victim and Her Children

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM) client: Sandy[1] had been a repeated victim of domestic violence, violation of orders of protection, and stalking, all witnessed by her three young children. When Sandy tried to divorce him, her abusive husband Paul alleged that Sandy was homeless and financially unstable without him, and thereby gained custody of the children. Sandy moved back with him so she could keep the children safe. Over the next three years, the abuse escalated.

Finally, a County Sheriff’s Department Advocate sent an email to one of our attorneys saying “I desperately need your help with one of my clients who had contacted numerous agencies for assistance but has been turned away. Could you please let me know if you can help her?” We learned the situation was so violent that Sandy was in greater danger every day. LSEM took the case.

LSEM was able to use several different legal strategies to remove Paul from the home. But, not surprisingly, the battle was far from over. Paul continued to threaten Sandy with such actions as attempting to run her car into a ditch while screaming that he loved her, barricading himself into their house, threatening suicide if she did not return, and attempting to get her thrown out of her rental home. He fought our legal strategies at every turn.

Meanwhile, LSEM worked with her to set up food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, cash assistance, and job training. On the first trial date for the divorce, Paul requested and received a continuance. He did not show up for the second trial date and we were able to obtain Sandy’s divorce, as well as sole legal and physical custody of the children and a continuing order for child support. Sandy is now focusing on rebuilding her life in another county.

LAWMO Client: When Holly, 34, came to Legal Aid of Western Missouri seeking a divorce, she had already spent years trying to escape from her abusive husband. In fact, she and her young daughter, Abby, narrowly escaped a raging house fire that he had intentionally set. To protect herself and her child, Holly obtained a protective order and moved repeatedly to hide from him. Ultimately, Holly relocated from a large city to a rural area in Southwest Missouri.

Despite her precautions, Holly’s husband continued to find her wherever she went. The last time he found her, he hit her in the head with a gun, causing her serious brain injury. Feeling hopeless and desperate to escape the seemingly endless cycle of violence, Holly asked Legal Aid for help. Holly’s Legal Aid attorney drafted persuasive pleadings in her divorce, requesting that the Court keep Holly’s personal information confidential. Legal Aid enrolled her in Missouri’s Safe at Home address confidentiality program, which provides victims of abuse with a substitute mailing address through the Secretary of State’s office. As a result of her injuries from the final assault, Holly suffered from symptoms of brain damage making it increasingly difficult to care for Abby by herself. Holly requested that Abby be allowed to temporarily stay with her paternal grandfather, a retired police officer. Holly felt the grandfather would protect Abby and help with homework during the school week. Legal Aid represented Holly in her divorce hearing and, as a result, she was granted sole custody of her daughter. During the proceedings, Legal Aid asked that the grandfather be permitted to have custody of Abby during the week, with Holly keeping Abby every weekend and the Court granted this request. Legal Aid gave Holly peace of mind that she could stop running, and finally focus on making a safe, happy home for herself and her daughter.