West Plains, Missouri
Recently I went through a divorce. I was unable to afford an attorney, while my ex-husband was. I was denied legal aid, twice, due to a lack of funds. My husband was granted full custody of my four year old son. I have one weekend of supervised visitation. I have to pay him $100 per each visitation. As well as $3500 for his attorneys fees in 60 days. All because I was expected to have the same amount of knowledge in representing myself as someone who spent years in law school. I have a job, a car, my own place, I don't do drugs, and my son wasn't abused. Clearly, justice can't be done when one party is represented while the other is not.
In the large amount of time I spent in court, I saw crying mothers over and over, asking the judge what to do, and repeating that they can't afford an attorney. And the judge is only allowed to respond with, "you are expected to know, if you represent yourself. I cannot give you legal advice." The Legal Service Corporation is largely responsible for the funding for state legal aid programs. Even though the budget is 350 million, with supplemental funding from LSC, the total amount of legal aid available for civil cases is still grossly inadequate.
According to LSC's widely released 2005 report "Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans", all legal aid offices nationwide, LSC-funded or not, are together able to meet only about 20 percent of the estimated legal needs of low-income people in the United States.
I lost custody of my child, because I could not do enough research on my own, to stand up against an attorney who had been in practice for years. Hard solid evidence I had was not accepted by the judge because a lack of foundation. 90% of what came out of my mouth was objected to. All on top of the fact that I have social anxiety, and fear of speaking to people and crowds.
I'm requesting that Congress grant more funding for LSC so that more low income families may have a chance at justice. So those extra funds can trickle down to all State Legal Aid programs. It wasn't a piece of furniture I was fighting for. It was my child. And I lost him because I lack funds.
I'm terrified of the emotional Impact It will have on my child being away from me. If I miss my deadline to pay for my visitation, my ex-husband refuses to let me see him. And its getting increasingly harder to make that deadline because he is garnishing my wages for the attorneys fees the judge granted I pay him. I believe with an increase in funding for legal aid services, more families will have a chance at justice, and be spared the same hardships I'm going through.
Alicia Napalan can be found on Facebook. Alicia represents a significant problem that is growing daily. Access to Justice within the Family Court system. The national average of 'Pro se' representation is over 50% with some states over 75% of parents representing themselves (Maine 74%, Connecticut 82% and New York at 85%). This is a two tiered system of justice between the haves (those who are able to afford legal representation) and the have not's (those who are not able to afford representation). NationalGALalert is trying to bring about reform to the Family Court system. If you are interested in helping then please contact us at NationalGALalert@gmail.com of like us on Facebook.