To the Editor:
Recently, the Appellate Division considered whether there is a right to appointed counsel for either a plaintiff or defendant in domestic violence matters. In D.N. v. K. M. (Docket Nos. A-3201-11T3 and A-3022-11T3), the New Jersey Appellate Division reaffirmed that there is no entitlement to counsel for parties in a civil restraining order proceeding holding that an "entry of a domestic violence FRO … does not result in a ‘consequence of sufficient magnitude’ to warrant the mandatory appointment of counsel" and that "the Legislature did not intend to invoke the power of the State to prosecute civil requests for restraining orders."
But for plaintiffs in domestic violence matter matters, the consequences are of the highest magnitude. Their safety, security, ability to provide for their children and keep them safe are all at stake in civil restraining order proceedings.
When the state refuses to step in, as in D.N. v. K.M., victims who lack the financial resources to pay for private counsel are often left to fend for themselves. The sad reality is that when the most important legal issues in their lives are being litigated, too many victims of domestic violence walk into the courtroom alone. It is in response to this need that Partners for Women and Justice was founded.
At Partners, we provide direct legal services to victims of domestic violence who would otherwise have no access to legal representation or advice. Our mission is to empower low-income and abused women to build safe and secure futures for themselves and their children by providing equal access to justice. We believe that keeping victims of domestic violence safe is a "consequence of sufficient magnitude" to warrant legal services and we exist to offer quality legal assistance in domestic violence and family law matters to a most underserved population.
Hanson is executive director and Lefkowitz is director of legal programs of Partners for Women and Justice of Montclair, a nonprofit legal assistance organization.