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Get the right lawyer

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2019

The right lawyer will tell you that physical abuse, emotional abuse, controlling behavior and controlling family finances are examples of domestic violence.

When you go to court, be prepared.

If you are in an abusive relationship and you need to go to court, get the right lawyer.

The right lawyer:

  • has experience with cases like yours, and
  • is trained to handle domestic violence cases.

Lawyers from legal aid and domestic violence programs are trained and have experience with cases like yours.

When you meet with a lawyer, see if they are the right lawyer for you.

Ask them:

  • What is "domestic violence"?
    The right lawyer will tell you that physical abuse, emotional abuse, controlling behavior and controlling family finances are examples of domestic violence.
  • How can you help me?
    The right lawyer will say they will:
    • Talk to you about going to court and being safe at court.
    • Help you organize the things you need to tell the judge.
    • Talk to the judge for you and help you talk to the judge.
    • Tell you that they will talk to possible witnesses.
    • Help you fill out court forms.
    • Get an interpreter for you if you need one. You may need an interpreter to talk to the lawyer and you may need an interpreter in court.

    And they will give you information about finding domestic violence services to help you be safe.

  • What should I expect in court?
    The right lawyer will not promise that you will win your case.
  • What can I do if the judge is biased against me if I talk about abuse?
    The right lawyer will share their ideas about how you can talk to the judge about abuse.
  • What can I do if the judge appoints a Guardian ad litem who is biased against me if I talk about abuse?
    The right lawyer will explain how you can talk to a GAL about abuse.

Ask yourself:

  • Are they listening to me?
  • Do they seem to believe me?
  • Do I trust them?
  • Can I work with them?

Ask the lawyer what it will cost:

  • lawyer’s fees
  • court fees.

Think about what you need in court – and talk to the lawyer about what you need:

How can I keep my children and myself safe?

What does “custody” mean in court?

How can I show the judge my children need me to have custody because I have been the more responsible parent?

What is the best parenting time and visitation arrangement for my children?

Is it safe to get child support?

What can I do about my personal property?

Is divorce or separation right for me?

Do I need an interpreter?

Your conversation with the lawyer is confidential. The lawyer cannot tell anyone about your conversation without your permission.

If you and the lawyer decide that the lawyer will be your lawyer, you and the lawyer will sign an agreement that says so. The agreement is called a “retainer agreement.”

If you think that your lawyer is not doing a good job, talk to them about it. Also, you can change lawyers.

Inspired by A Survivor's Guide to Custody in the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court, by Helen Hailes MSc for the Custody Awareness Collaborative

Who to call for help

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