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Legal aid for domestic violence victims

When New Jersey women suffer abuse in their home, people think that a women's shelter will give them a way to escape. Although shelters provide an important service for domestic violence victims, access to legal support allows people to establish new lives free of abuse more effectively than any other form of assistance.

Unfortunately, funding for legal services for abuse victims is rare. Victims' advocates are calling for more money to be directed to paying for lawyers. They cite the fact that an abuser charged with a crime has a right to a public defender but the victim has no such right. Victims need to go through the civil courts to gain protective orders, divorces, child custody and spousal support that allow them to end abuse. Places that have made money available to survivors have reported success. For example, one Minnesota county that set up a special court to address repeat domestic violence offenses has not had a murder committed by an intimate partner since.

Without a legal representative to help a person navigate the court system, the chance of obtaining the all-important protective order plummets. The findings of one research study showed that only 32 percent of domestic violence survivors managed to get a protective order without an attorney. Among those survivors who had an attorney, 83 percent of them were able to obtain one.

A victim searching for an attorney would want to find one who has experience in handling domestic abuse issues. Such an attorney could advise the person about how to document abuse and threats to the safety of the children. The attorney could present this information to a court and strive to get a protective order. Additionally, an attorney could inform the survivor about how to gain sole custody of children and ask for spousal support when filing for divorce.

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