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A victim of domestic violence must fit the proper criteria in order to get any help

Posted Oct 02 2009 3:07pm
Over the last month I have been trying to work with the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley to try and find free legal counsel for my divorce, since I have already paid nearly $10,000 for my unfinished divorce case. Before my financial settlement, a settlement I have been waiting for for nearly a year, this service was willing to "try" and work with me, although still hasn't been able to properly assist me. They were willing to try and help me, a victim of brutal violence, find a free attorney because they knew I was almost bankrupting myself paying for a lawyer and needed medical treatments, while being unemployed. With no success in actually locating a pro bono attorney after nearly one month, they phoned me Friday to gather some information on my case. When I told them I was awarded with the financial settlement I had been waiting for, money that is solely going to pay off all of the legal debt and medical problems I have had, they very quickly told me that since I actually had money in my account, they were unsure if they could proceed with finding me a free lawyer.

I have two reasons for writing this this afternoon, one is to speak out about what I am constantly learning by going through this DV maze that so many of us are sent out in, and the other reason is to warn victims to stay victims if they expect any help from any organization set up to help "victims of domestic violence".

Trying to get any help and trying to keep your head above the water after escaping abuse has become my challenge over the last year. After emptying out my entire savings account for moving fees, new furniture, a new apartment, medical treatments, and two lawyers for my prolonged divorce case, I have still not seen any assistance from programs that are "in business" to help DV victims. Finally, after complaining to the state over and over again, the OPDV actually pulled some strings (to my surprise) and got the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley to try and locate me a free attorney, I guess my "struggling" was adequate. With failed attempts, they have been trying to do so, but after a phone call last week, I found out that unless a battered woman remains a battered woman, meaning financially devastated and broken, these agencies will offer no assistance. When I was honest and informed them about my divorce case, about the settlement, they heard that I had money in my account, although not for long, and was hesitant to continue helping me. This is the reality of this situation. Although I have wasted my life savings on less than competent lawyers, paying my husband to continue to live in our home while I had to move out, and medical treatments due to abuse, all while being unemployed, I still do not fit the criteria in order to qualify for some relief because I have more that $0 in my account. In my opinion of course, this is a shame. The message I am hearing here is to stay a victim, to try and not save any money, to remain penniless and broken, to remain battered.

For me, it has not been easy to keep my head above water in this circumstance, it has not been easy to pay for my bills, to lose my job, to start a new life all over again, while battling my husband in court and spending all of my money doing it. And now, at the end of all of it, I still don't qualify for any assistance, I still don't qualify to get a pro bono attorney if I have any money left in my bank account. What must one do? Spend every last dime paying for the abuse someone else has caused? Bankrupt myself and try to be financially irresponsible so that I fit this criteria? No, I think I've paid enough for being hurt by my husband, I think enough money has come out of my pockets, and I know none has come out of my husband's. The message being sent to victims is to remain a victim, to pay for the abuse that someone else has caused, to fit awful criteria in order to get any assistance from any DV agency, and above all, if one does have any money, they have no business seeking any help. Unfortunately, it is not enough that I am unemployed and have been pouring money into my doctors and lawyers pockets because of a crime I did not commit and a marriage I did not ruin. I am simply not poor enough, not struggling enough, and have been able to keep my head above water thus far, all things that keep me from getting any assistance. My advice to any DV victim: before your partner decides to beat you (sorry for being harsh), make sure you have no money in your account, and if you're married, make sure he nearly puts you into a coma, because if you aren't near death, you'll barely get a 50:50 settlement in court either. Very harsh, very bitter, but this is reality, and that's why I write.

The Legal Services of the Hudson Valley post this on their main page:

Sine 1967, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (formerly Westchester / Putnam Legal Services) has provided free, high quality civil legal services to low-income people. Our services help struggling individuals resolve urgent, non-criminal legal problems that can lead to larger social problems such as homelessness, child neglect and domestic violence. The result is strong communities where the rights of our neighbors are protected, regardless of their incomes.
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