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 132 local legal aid programs in every congressional district and the U.S. territories. With more than 855 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. Low-income survivors of domestic violence seek professional legal help for only 23% of their problems. In 2018, LSC grantees reported a total of 129,186 domestic violence cases, the highest number recorded since LSC began collecting such data in 2011.

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.
  • Securing child custody orders so that a parent and children can legally and safely leave the abusive spouse and/or parent.
  • Providing other legal services in matters related to separation and divorce proceedings such as employment, financial, and housing problems.

Survivors rate the filing of a protective order as one of the two most effective tools for stopping domestic violence, second only to leaving the abuser. An academic study by two economists found that increased access to civil legal aid was one of three major factors correlating with the 21% decline in the incidence of domestic violence from 1993 to 1998. The economists concluded that civil legal aid is more effective than access to shelters or counseling services in reducing domestic violence. The Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice found that obtaining a permanent protection order results in a statistically significant reduction (80%) in police reported physical violence in the subsequent 12 months.

In addition to supporting domestic violence survivors, legal aid attorneys help their clients gain economic independence and rebuild 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 promotes individual empowerment and self-reliance by giving people the tools and knowledge to access the civil court system to protect and exercise their rights.