YWCA Greenwich has announced the launch of a new Civil Legal Clinic that provides free civil legal services to victims of domestic violence who are being served by YWCA Domestic Abuse Services (DAS). Abusers often use the legal system to continue to torment their victims, and many victims of domestic violence either don’t have the assets or don’t have access to their finances to pay for legal representation.
The clinic will be run by two lawyers and YWCA volunteers, Wendy DiChristina and Amy Messing. Many of the victims of intimate partner violence currently served by YWCA DAS are engaged in, or would like to initiate, civil court proceedings such as divorce, custody agreements and child support. However, many of these clients don’t meet the strict financial eligibility requirements for free legal aid from Connecticut Legal Services and do not have access to financial resources to hire a private attorney. Because of their position in this middle ground, many choose to delay filing within the court or to not file at all.
“Court proceedings are very complicated and can be especially daunting for victims of domestic abuse,” said Meredith Gold, YWCA Director, Domestic Abuse Services. “Given the potential danger of facing their abuser in court, these individuals benefit significantly by this “pro bono” guidance from these attorneys.”
The volunteer attorneys will provide consultations to current YWCA DAS clients, by
appointment only. YWCA DAS clinical staff will make the referrals to the Civil Legal Clinic. Services are not open to the public. Legal consultations are one-time meetings to go over specific questions and/or provide guidance to fill out forms or motions. One objective is to encourage self-confidence and self-reliance. Depending upon the complexity of the case, clients may receive additional consultations as follow-up issues require further research.
While serving as volunteers on the YWCA 24-hour hotline and at court with the YWCA criminal court advocate, Wendy and Amy saw a need to provide additional services that would address civil legal cases of those impacted by domestic violence. “As a volunteer at YWCA Domestic Abuse Services, I realized the additional need of civil legal representation that many clients aren’t able to access on their own,” said Wendy DiChristina, attorney and Legal Director for the Civil Legal Clinic. “I’m very excited to extend further support to these individuals and families who are already suffering from abuse.”
According to the YWCA, lack of affordable sustainable housing and legal services present the greatest barriers to freeing victims of abuse and from allowing them to create new lives free from abuse.
In the future, YWCA Greenwich hopes to develop a network of additional attorneys who are willing to volunteer as consultants on a “pro bono” basis, as well as provide limited scope legal representation for clients.
“I’m so proud to volunteer my services to these clients,” said Amy Messing. “Helping them get through what can seem to be an overwhelmingly complicated process is worth my time, and I hope other lawyers with civil legal expertise will volunteer with us in the future.”
Civil Legal Clinic volunteers and Domestic Abuse Services staff will provide orientation and training to participating attorneys to ensure compliance with Civil Legal Clinic procedures and trauma-informed interactions with clients.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call the YWCA 24-hour hotline at 203-622-0003.