Know the Laws:
UPDATED March 26, 2010
Nothing can be more frustrating than when you feel that the judge or lawyer on your case is not performing their work properly. Sometimes you feel that the judge or lawyer isn’t paying enough attention to your case or is not considering domestic violence as a critical issue when deciding a protection order, custody or divorce case. It can also be frustrating when you cannot afford a lawyer but your local legal services organization has turned you down. Here are some ideas/ options to consider when you feel “the system” (judges and lawyers) has failed you.
You might be able to file an appeal of the judge’s decision. An appeal is when you ask a higher court to review a decision by a judge in a lower court. The higher court (usually called a court of appeals or supreme court) looks at the record of the trial court and decides if the judge made any mistakes of law. You cannot introduce new evidence when you appeal your case to a higher court. The higher court only looks at what was said and done in the trial court.
Usually, you only have a short time to file an appeal once an order is issued. The time limit may be different depending on what state you live in. For basic information on appeals, go to our Filing Appeals page. You may want to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible about the time limit in your state so that you do not lose your chance to appeal. Go to Finding a Lawyer to find legal help in your state.
Contact a local domestic violence organization. They have no doubt come across similar situations before and can help you think through your situation and possibly develop a plan to obtain a better legal arrangement. They can also provide you with emotional support and counseling. To find a domestic violence organization in your area please click here: State and Local Programs.
You can also contact the State Coalition Against Domestic Violence in your state. The State Coalitions Against Domestic Violence work to impact public policy and legislation which affect battered women. If you have had any problems with a judge or a lawyer, someone at the Coalition may able to help you or at least channel you in the right direction on how to approach these issues.
If the abuser gets custody of your children or if there is a real threat that the abuser will get custody of your kids, you may want to check out the Battered Mothers Custody Conference website at http://www.batteredmotherscustodyconference.org. The Conference includes presentations, round-table discussions, and question answer sessions with nationally distinguished professionals whose work is focused on resolving the complex issues facing battered women as they struggle to protect themselves and their children in and out of court during custody and visitation disputes.
If you have problems with your lawyer or you think your lawyer is not representing you well, talk to your lawyer. It is usually best to discuss your concerns with the attorney, ask for specific things that you want from him/her, and give the attorney a chance to correct his/her actions. If that doesn't work, here are a few other ideas:
If you cannot afford a lawyer, but cannot get free legal services, you might be able to ask the judge to order the other party (husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, etc) to pay for your lawyer’s legal fees. Depending on the type of case and the state you live in, sometimes judges evaluate your financial situation as well as the other party’s financial situation and can order the other person to pay for any legal fee or cost involved in the legal process. When looking for a private lawyer, you can ask if s/he would be willing to make this request on your behalf in court. If it is a divorce case where you expect to be getting a large sum of money in a divorce settlement, perhaps the lawyer may delay getting paid until the case is complete or work out a payment plan. For certain cases, such as a personal injury case or an employment discrimination case, you may likely be able to find a lawyer who will take your case for a contingency fee -- where the lawyer will get a percentage of the money from your winnings in the case.
You may also want to contact any law schools in your area because sometimes they have legal clinics and can take cases for free. In these clinics, law school students provide assistance and representation under the supervision of their professors.
There are other ways in which you can help yourself, if you do not find help from a lawyer or an advocate in a domestic violence organization. Here are some ideas on how to proceed: