Press Release: BWSS Hopeful with Legal Aid Increases to Family Law Services

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release

April 25, 2018

Women’s Organization Hopeful with Legal Aid Increases to Family Law Services

Vancouver, BC–Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) is cautiously hopeful with Legal Services Society (LSS) announcement of increases to availability of family law services.

On Friday, April 20th 2018 LSS announced that through new funding from the provincial government they have reinstated family law coverage that was eliminated over a year ago. The funding will go to providing Family Exception Reviews, Discretionary Financial Eligibility, and very much needed Extended Family Services.

“Providing quality legal representation to women survivors of violence is essential not only to the disposition of their legal matter but also impacts their safety”, says BWSS Executive Director Angela Marie MacDougall, “A woman who has been subjected to intimate partner violence also requires legal representation to address the challenges that exist due to power imbalances”.

Under the Exception Review process, LSS will review the application of a financially eligible person whose legal problem does not meet their family coverage guidelines. For women survivors of violence often dealing with multiple areas of the law intersect with child support and financial matters.

Discretionary Financial Eligibility is important because income cut-offs are not realistic when it comes to the cost of living for women in BC. Discretionary financial coverage means LSS will review a woman’s application further to determine if she is eligible for legal aid if they are slightly over financial eligibility guidelines.

Many abusive partners will use litigation as a form of ongoing control and harassment. The family court litigation process can become a tool for abusive partners to continue their abusive behaviour and can use up all the designated legal aid hours available to survivors. At which time the abusive partner has more power and control to affect outcomes in Family Court especially if he has greater financial means.

Extended Family Services means that lawyers working women who need more time will again be able to apply for extensions. This matters to women who have built trust with their lawyer preventing re-victimization by not asking her to continuously disclose violence she experienced. This also means her lawyer is familiar with all the ways in which her case intersects with the law.

“While this is a positive step in the right direction and will hopefully increase women’s access to justice, these are not new or additional services but rather reinstating previous policies”, says Harshada Deshpande Manager of Legal Services and Advocacy program at BWSS “Additionally, not all women have the support to request a review on any of the above mentioned processes and support services like the Legal Services and Advocacy Program (LSAP) at BWSS continue to fill in the gaps supporting women survivors of violence”.

BWSS supports women in applying for reviews; support women who run out legal aid of hours; in collaboration with paralegal workshops and legal interns BWSS provides women with support drafting documents, affidavits, divorce applications, child-support/spousal support applications and financial statements.

Organizations like BWSS support women to use their lawyers more effectively and efficiently by doing the work to help maximize their legal aid hours, like filling out paperwork in advance of their meeting with a lawyer.

In 2002, the province slashed 40% from the funding for the Legal Services Society. Over 80% of women accessing our services identify at least one legal issue where they require information. The funding cuts and policy changes had a strong negative impact on women survivors of violence. For decades BWSS has provided legal support to women who have experienced violence in intimate relationships, helping women navigate the Canadian legal system.

BWSS Legal Services and Advocacy Program provides a matrix of legal services for women experiencing violence and interfacing with the law.

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Media enquiries

Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director, Battered Women’s Support Services

Tel. (604) 808 0507 E-mail: [email protected]