“There needs to be a better system in place for cases of emotional abuse”
Natalie Patron is not a lawyer. But, she certainly has an opinion when it comes to the current legal system. After all, she recently went through a drawn-out court battle consisting of one initial hearing followed by four trials—just for a divorce.
A hardworking mother of three, Patron was in an emotionally abusive marriage for years, unhappy and yearning for independence for her and her children. When she finally found the courage to file for divorce, however, Patron realized that the struggle wasn’t over. Her (then) husband tried to fight her decision every step of the way, and eventually she filed for a restraining order—which was denied.
“After the order was denied, I really needed more help,” Patron says. “I didn’t know how much protection I had under the separation.”
So, Patron got online and began researching pro bono organizations, hoping, at the very least, for advice on paperwork and fees. She ended up finding Metro Volunteer Lawyers, never expecting the scope of help they would give her.
While her soon-to-be ex-husband’s parents paid for his lawyer, Patron was left without any resources once their battle escalated. She was above the minimum assistance level, but still unable to afford a lawyer on her own.
The lack of help for this financial demographic has turned into an all-too-common issue within the legal world. The ABA Journal describes this in the article, “Middle-Class Dilemma: Can’t Afford Lawyers, Can’t Qualify for Legal Aid.” A law professor states that “Lawyers are just too expensive for many people needing legal help.” Those who fall within this category make too much money to qualify for assistance and legal aid, yet cannot afford the per-hour fee most lawyers today charge.
Luckily, Patron found assistance through Metro Volunteer Lawyers, and specifically, its Family Law Court Program Coordinator, Kevin Murphy. Throughout the beginning of her divorce, she spoke with him frequently for advice. As the divorce proceedings were drawn out, it became clear that Patron needed more than that. So, MVL assigned her a pro bono lawyer: Maureen Weiland, an associate at Fennemore Craig in Denver.
“She treated me as if I was her number one client,” Patron raved of Weiland. “She explained all aspects of everything to me, and was very diligent. I still can’t believe how wonderful she was.”
Weiland had her work cut out for her. Patron’s husband wasn’t fighting for assets, but for unfettered access to their three kids and to try and prevent her from ever leaving the state. While Patron was worried about the welfare of her girls, it seemed that he wanted to make the process as difficult as possible.
As a young lawyer looking to further her knowledge of the law, Weiland rose to the challenge: “Taking on cases like this has been the most valuable work that I’ve done. Working with MVL is a great opportunity for new lawyers to hone their skills. I’ve gained experiences that this early on in my career I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.”
Another big roadblock faced by Weiland and Patron was the lack of definition in cases dealing with emotional abuse.
“There’s a system in place for physical scars but not so much for emotional,” Patron explains. Without broken arms or bruises, she struggled to demonstrate the damage her husband left on her and her children’s egos and sense of self-worth.
Weiland was pivotal in showing why it wasn’t a good idea for Patron’s husband to be in their children’s lives. Patron knew what needed to happen, but she didn’t feel she could defend them on her own. She credits Weiland with fighting hard and playing by the rules to find protection for her family.
“It’s great to see the impact of the work I’m doing, and how it helped make her life better,” Weiland says.
Today, Patron and her children are healing and discovering their independence. She is incredibly grateful for MVL and Weiland, who made Patron believe that law can be used for the greater good.
“I felt so blessed to have her on my team,” Patron says.
By Courtney Gibb, the communications and marketing specialist for the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations and editor of The Docket. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL) is the pro bono program of the Denver Bar Association, providing civil legal services to those in need. Contact MVL today to learn how you can take on a pro bono case or become a mentor at metrovolunteerlawyers.org.