NYLAG’s Family Law Unit recently secured a significant grant from the Avon Foundation to create Project Safe & Secure, a new program that will provide victims of domestic violence with the comprehensive legal services they need to escape their abusers. Because low-income victims often have intertwined legal, housing, and financial problems, the Project will provide survivors in New York City with an array of legal services in the areas of family law, consumer law, immigration, housing, employment, public benefits, and financial counseling.

Of primary importance in these cases is assuring the safety of the victim. As part of the Project, NYLAG attorneys will work to secure orders of protection, make arrangements for child custody and visitation, and protect and pursue the victim’s rights to marital assets and ongoing spousal financial support. The attorneys will represent clients in contested and uncontested divorces, and will assist them in establishing or enforcing orders of child and spousal support, equitable distribution, and financial awards.

NYLAG attorneys will also counsel and represent victims of domestic violence in cases involving eviction, foreclosure prevention and homelessness; help immigrant victims to achieve independence from their abusers by resolving work authorization issues and/or undocumented status; and help victims to restore credit destroyed by their abusers. Attorneys from NYLAG’s General Legal Services Unit will partner with Family Law attorneys to help restore wrongly terminated or denied government benefits and to represent survivors in employment suits regarding discrimination or unfair termination.

As a third part of the new Project, NYLAG’s professional financial counselors will provide personalized counseling with an emphasis on understanding financial abuse, safeguarding assets, restoring and establishing credit, and following the steps to achieve and sustain financial independence. The Project will also offer financial workshops for victims at social services agencies from within NYLAG’s extensive mutual referral network. In addition, NYLAG is in the process of training law students and volunteer attorneys to assist in providing effective legal remedies and education for survivors.

Recent studies suggest that access to legal services has the greatest impact on decreasing domestic violence. While shelters, hotlines and counseling are vitally important crisis-intervention services, they do not offer victims certain important alternatives to their abusive relationships. The studies concluded that legal service programs help victims to achieve physical safety and financial security, thereby providing them with the practical means to leave their abusers. Project Safe & Secure provides a vital resource for victims, and it is the hope of Kim Susser, Director of NYLAG’s Family Law Unit, that the new Project will continue to grow in order to meet the needs of all survivors of domestic violence in New York City.