Many organizations provide free or reduced cost legal services to pregnant women, parents, and birthmothers. The legal services in each state vary depending upon the specific organization, but the free legal services offered in most include help for victims of domestic abuse, unfair housing practices, employment discrimination, and parents in need of judicial enforcement of public or child support benefits. Some of these organizations include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Nutrition Program, and Medicaid. Most organizations also provide assistance in more than one language.
Types of Legal Services
There are three basic kinds of legal services:
- Self-help materials that tell you how to solve your legal issue without an attorney and often provide necessary forms to do so.
- One-time advice provided by an attorney for your legal issue. He or she will either refer you somewhere else for continuing help or will advise you how to continue resolution on your own.
- Full representation provided by an attorney, including ongoing legal advice and representation in a court proceeding if necessary.
Legal Aid, a national program with offices by state, provides full representation for those who qualify. Applicants must meet their income requirements to qualify for legal services. Services vary by state but most offices offer assistance for parents needing help with getting child support payments, dealing with custody or custody violations, and domestic violence. Most offices also offer information in more than one language. Many local Catholic Charities offices also refer legal services, often in more than one language. Family law services, including help with child support and intimate partner violence, are commonly offered. Refer to our resources list to visit Catholic Charities’ website and find your local chapter.
Legal Advice and Representation
The American Bar Association and LawHelp.org list resources on their website that are organized by state. Both organizations provide information on ways people of low and moderate incomes can find free and low-cost legal representation in their community. These websites also provide self-help guidance, including forms for legal problems. It is essential to ensure you are accessing information for your state, because each state’s laws and court protocols differ widely. While the resources in each state vary, each listing explains the area the organization serves and the services they provide, as well as the languages spoken. Often courthouse clerks can be helpful in explaining which forms need to be filed and when. They cannot give you legal advice, but they can help walk you through a complicated process.
Law schools are also a good resource. Many law schools offer student clinics that accept low-income clients, free of charge. Even though students will be handling your case, their professors, who are licensed attorneys, supervise their work so you will get good legal services for free. Law schools’ libraries are also open to the public during certain hours, providing you with research resources and knowledgeable law librarians.
By Heidi Van De Berg
Resources for Survivors of Assault
RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) offers a 24 hour hotline for survivors of sexual assault. The hotline is accessible either through the phone or online. The phone number for the hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). Or if chatting online makes you more comfortable, there is an online hotline available at ohl.rainn.org/online/. Both of these services are also available in Spanish. RAINN’s website also offers information about sexual assault and a search engine to find a local counseling center. Find a counseling center near you at centers.rainn.org/. Visit https://www.rainn.org/get-information/links for a thorough list of national resources.
Pressing charges in response to sexual assault can be one of the hardest and most trying procedures that a survivor has to go through. But it can also be one of the most rewarding and healing. Before making a decision to press charges, it is important to understand what to expect. Visit https://rainn.org/get-info/legal-information/working-with-the-criminal-justice-system to learn more about pressing charges and prosecuting rape.
All 50 states have some form of victim services. Visit http://www.ovc.gov/map.html to find your state and see what help they can offer you.
If you are pregnant while assaulted or learn you became pregnant as a result of rape, you are also encouraged to contact your local pregnancy resource centers.
- American Bar Association Consumers Guide to Legal Help, http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/home.cfm.
- Catholic Charities, http://catholiccharitiesusa.org.
- Child Support Enforcement. Look in your telephone directory or online for your local Office of Child Support Enforcement.
- For more information about the Family Medical Leave Act or break time for nursing mothers, go to http://www.dol.gov/whd, or call 202-693-0051 or 1-866-487-9243 (voice), 202-693-7755 (TTY).
- For victims of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm
- Law Help.org, http://www.lawhelp.org.
- Legal Aid. Look in your telephone directory or online for local Legal Aid services.
- Social Services. Look in your telephone directory or online for your local Department of Social Services.