I accompanied a friend to family court yesterday for day one of a week of trial that had been originally set for early last Autumn. For the last three months she has lived under the stress of knowing that her name could come up at the drop of a hat and that she would have to make herself available. That's quite a load of stress in my opinion. As if the prospect of sitting in the same courtroom as your abuser isn't enough to stress you out, you can't even adequately prepare yourself for it because you don't even know when the call will come. I think she has held herself together admirably, even if she was wearing running shoes under her dress pants because in the panic of everything else she couldn't find her good shoes.
Actually I want to talk about those shoes, not because they were anything special but because they say a lot about my friend. For all her fears and qualms about what the day was going to hold, she stayed true to herself. This is huge. She knew that she was under a lot of pressure and she didn't stress herself out by searching and searching for those elusive dress shoes, in the end she wore what she knew she was comfortable in. She wore what made her feel secure. She wore black and grey runners with neon green laces. So yes, there is the distinct possibility that this decision might qualify her for the "what not to wear" show but who cares. My friend is a classy chick, if she felt good in her stylish, um, sensible runners then good for her.
This is the same friend who, over coffee one day a couple of weeks ago was ruminating over relaxation techniques that would help her to stay focused and not freaked out if she ever got the chance to be on the stand. Her husband is representing himself so she was aware that he would be able to cross examine her. What a prospect to look forward to! By the end of the conversation my friend and I were in tears from laughing so hard - my friend figured she could have acupuncture done and we could picture her sitting up there with a face full of needles. What can you do but laugh sometimes, right?
For all the silliness, going to Family Court is a very serious and stressful undertaking. If you have children and you are thinking of leaving or have left, you can expect that at some point in your journey you will end up there. I know some women who have not sought out legal counsel for a variety of different reasons, perhaps because they don't want to upset the status quo or perhaps the father isn't in the picture anymore so it doesn't seem necessary, whatever the reason, I have to say that in my opinion it is better to deal with this stuff than put it off. If you are dealing with an abusive partner then you know, unfortunately, that for them it is all about power and control. Can I give you a bit of advice? Seeking the help of a legal advocate or even free advice from a lawyer is a powerful way to stay one step ahead. The more you can do to protect yourself and your children, the more power you give yourself and that isn't the bad, destructive kind of power, instead it is the kind of power that stops you feeling helpless. Haven't we all had enough of feeling powerless?
If you want to know what your options are then a good place to start is with a legal advocate. These individuals are not lawyers, rather they are women who are knowledgeable about Domestic Violence and what we as survivors can expect to deal with - the service is free and they can point you in the right direction, answer many of your questions, help you to apply for Legal Aid and they will even accompany you to court as a support. Legal Advocates are invaluable and such an important part of helping us to navigate the complex legal system. Off the top of my head I know that you can contact The Women's Centre, Jared's Place, Inasmuch House, Interval House, the Native Women's Shelter and Good Shepherd Women's Services, they all have Legal Advocates. For more information please see Community Links under the Resources tab.
So here's to my friend and to anyone else who is living under the dark cloud of Family Court - You can do it! You can get through it with a little help from your friends and the security of knowing that you have a whole crowd of supporters here at 1 in Four who are with you in spirit. And if you can't find your dress shoes then I definitely suggest wearing your runners, but only if they have neon laces because that adds a nice touch.by