A child custody fight can be emotionally draining and stressful, especially if the mother cannot afford to hire an attorney for assistance in court. Moms may be able to receive free or low-cost legal help from women's law centers, domestic violence organizations, legal aid organizations and other resources. Women in custody disputes may also wish to find support groups specifically for mothers.
Women's Law Centers
Some law centers specifically focus on legal issues related to women and children. Women's law centers often focus on many family law issues that affect mothers. For example, the Women's Law Center of Maryland has a state-wide family law project with an advice hotline. Other organizations, such as Legal Voice in Seattle, provide free legal information related to family law and a referral service for women who need further advice. Moms should look for law centers that serve their local area or state, since child custody disputes usually depend on each state's specific laws. Some law centers may offer legal information or operate telephone hotlines for women to speak with volunteer attorneys regarding divorce, custody, support, domestic violence and other legal issues. Women's law centers may also be able to direct mothers to other resources as necessary, such as shelters, transitional services and other legal organizations.
Domestic Violence Organizations
Mothers who have suffered from domestic violence committed by their partners or the fathers of their children may be able to receive legal help specifically intended for domestic violence survivors. Some states have enacted legislation that discourages giving custody to a parent who has committed domestic violence, unless the court reviews evidence in the case and decides that the abusive parent has successfully taken steps to overcome the presumption that he should not have custody rights. Domestic violence organizations can often provide legal advice to women who believe that domestic violence should affect the outcomes of their custody cases. Women from any state can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and also find a list of help by state on the organization's website. (see Resources)
Free and Low-Cost Legal Assistance
Though not specifically geared toward moms, many legal aid organizations, legal clinics and attorney pro bono programs offer free and low-cost legal help and information for family law cases. Programs such as Legal Aid of North Carolina allow women to discuss their cases with lawyers or even have representation in court. Many free and low-cost legal programs set eligibility requirements, including income level. Women should look for legal aid organizations serving their local area, city or state. Additionally, some state courts provide family law facilitators to assist individuals who do not have lawyers but need help with paperwork for child custody litigation. For example, in Spokane County, Washington, the court house facilitator's office offers help with custody forms for superior court cases.
Support Groups for Mothers
Moms may also seek emotional support from other mothers who are also experiencing custody disputes. Women can search for online support groups serving mothers with ongoing custody litigation---these groups may provide message boards or public forums through which women can communicate and participate in discussions. Other online support groups focus on mothers who currently do not have custody of their children. Custody Preparation for Moms, an online resource, lists some Internet-based support groups on its website. In addition to Internet-based groups, mothers can also look for support groups that offer opportunities to participate in meetings with other mothers. In-person support groups may serve a particular city or local area. Websites such as meetup.com may include group events for parents in custody battles and for non-custodial parents. (See Resources) Before attending meetings or posting personal information through any support group, women should research the organization's reputation and legitimacy.
- "Domestic Violence and Child Custody"; Judicial Council of California; August 2004
- Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education: Arizona Domestic Violence Legal Assistance Project
- Spokane County Superior Court: Court House Facilitator (Family Law)
- Custody Preparation for Moms: Recommended Support Groups
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