Ensure everyone has access to the lawyers they need so they have due process in family and criminal cases.
What is the challenge?
When women, trans, non-binary, intersex and agender folks are escaping this violence through separation or divorce, each partner, as well as the children involved are afforded certain rights under the family law legislation at the territorial and federal level. These laws govern the division of property, money and other assets, and as well as access to children. These laws are complex and can be challenging to navigate on your own. The consequences of poorly advocating in court can mean that folks leave abuse and end up in poverty, they lose custody of their children to an abusive coparent, and in some cases, children are killed by their abusive parent.
Currently if a person needs a lawyer to help with their custody case after a violent situation or when trying to escape an abusive partner, they have three options:
- Victim Services can support anyone with up to 4 hours of advice from a family law lawyer;
- They can access a lawyer through legal aid (if they earn less than $37,500 as a family per year); or
- They can pay for a lawyer.
Legal aid provides support for folks both with criminal law cases and with family law cases, however, they receive more funding for criminal law than family law therefore, have less resources for this type of support. In addition, when a client sees a Legal Aid lawyer, they open and close a new case each time they go to court. If the client’s partner takes them back to court multiple times over custody or other rights, they get a different legal aid lawyer each time with no continuity in the expertise being brought to your case. Finally, legal aid has an income limit. It does not provide legal services to folks who make over $37,500 per year. However, the cost for a private lawyer can be $50,000+ for family law which is still out of reach for most individuals.
In many cases, abusive partners use coercive control to take advantage of these gaps. If someone who is being abused is cut off from all access to money, they cannot retain a lawyer privately. If they are called back to court multiple times and must use a different legal aid lawyer each time, it is challenging to build a case for a pattern of coercive behavior that is being applied over time by the abuser. The abuser can then use the justice system as another way to continue to control and psychologically manipulate their victim.
The outcome is that victims of gender-based violence don’t receive access to justice in these cases. This means that folks experiencing gender-based violence develop a mistrust in the justice system and don’t report or attempt to leave a partner in the first place, children are left in the joint or sometimes sole care of their abuser, or worse.
Survivors/victims of gender-based violence deserve access to equal legal representation and so do the children in their care. They deserve access to justice.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN:
- Increase the funding to the Legal Aid Society specifically for family law cases
- Increase the income limit for legal aid, or create special considerations for victims of gender-based violence seeking family law support
WHAT CAN YOU DO:
- Educate yourself
- Call your MLA to learn more about what they are doing to take action.