How Legal Aid Helps Domestic Violence Survivors
HOW LEGAL AID HELPS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the single largest funder of civil legal assistance in the country. LSC promotes access to justice by funding high-quality civil legal assistance for low-income Americans. The Corporation currently funds 133 local legal aid programs in every congressional district and five U.S. territories. With more than 800 offices nationwide, these programs help people escape domestic violence, assist veterans, help families with housing issues, and help seniors ward off consumer scams.
LSC grantees help constituents who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. Family law cases, including domestic violence, represent the largest category of cases closed by LSC grantees each year. In 2016, LSC grantees closed 115,977 domestic violence cases involving nearly 282,014 victims and their families. This represents nearly 16% of all cases closed by grantees nationwide, and for some grantees one-third or more of their cases involve domestic violence. Between 2012 and 2016, LSC grantees have closed more than half a million (559,587) domestic violence cases.
LSC grantees provide legal assistance to domestic violence survivors in many different areas of the law. Grantees prevent future violence by obtaining, renewing and enforcing protective orders in court. For many victims, concerns over their ability to provide for themselves and their children are a significant reason for staying in or returning to an abusive relationship. Survivors rate the filing of a protective order as one of the two most effective tools for stopping domestic violence, only second to leaving the abuser. Grantees also secure child custody orders so that a parent and his or her children can legally and safely leave the abusive spouse and/or parent. Moreover, they provide complete legal services in matters related to separation and divorce proceedings, employment, financial and housing problems.
Legal aid is a proven tool to help victims of domestic violence. A study by the Institute for Policy Integrity found that civil legal aid is more effective than access to shelters or counseling services in reducing domestic violence -- by as much as 21%. According to another study, 83% of victims represented by an attorney successfully obtained a protective order, compared to only 32% of victims that did not have an attorney.
In addition to supporting domestic violence survivors, legal aid attorneys help their clients gain economic independence and re-build their lives. Civil legal aid reduces repeat incidents of domestic violence, thus cutting public spending on medical care, special education and counseling for affected children, as well as police resources. Collateral effects include improved workplace productivity, and fewer lost wages. Legal aid for victims of domestic violence promote individual empowerment and self-reliance by giving people the tools and knowledge to access the civil court system to protect and exercise their rights.