Tips for Accessing Resources

Talking to law enforcement, lawyers, or legal aid can be intimidating. For someone experiencing abuse who is dealing with trauma and mental/emotional distress, it can be even more challenging to get support from those agencies. While each situation is unique, there are some tips for accessing resources. These questions can help you know what to do or say when seeking support.

Questions to Ask Law Enforcement During an Incident

  • Speak clearly and give your location.
  • After the police arrive and they have secured the area and taken your information, get the names and badge numbers of the officers you talked to. If they have business cards, get those.
  • Ask questions about what is going to happen next.
  • If there was an arrest, ask if they will notify you when the defendant bonds out of jail. Get the jail phone number to find this out yourself, too.
  • If the defendant is at large, ask if they are going to notify you when he is arrested.
  • Ask if they can help you get into a safe house.
  • Ask if there is an advocate from the police department who will follow up with you and offer services and referrals.
  • Ask if you are required to appear in court for the defendant’s arraignment. Some jurisdictions with fast-track domestic violence protocols require that you be present.
  • Write down all information given to you by the officers. Ask for copies of any pictures they take or any reports of the incident.

After you speak with the officers, write down all the information given to you. Ask them for copies of any pictures they take or any reports of the incident. This will be useful documentation if you need to go to court.

Whether you contact law enforcement immediately after abuse happens or speak to them at a different time, it’s okay to ask for help! You can ask a friend or family member to be present to offer support or call The Hotline 24/7 for support and information.

Seeking Legal Assistance

For many survivors, going to court (whether for a protection order, custody issues, or financial restitution) can be hard. You can use our local resources page to find legal aid officers or lawyers in your area. If you connect with a legal advocate or lawyer, asking certain questions is important. They can give you insight into what options are available to you. The following questions are great tips for accessing those resources and making sure they are affordable and what you need.

Questions to ask before you hire an attorney

  • Have you or any members of your firm ever represented my partner or anyone else associated with my partner?
  • Do you handle divorce or custody cases?
  • If so, how many of these cases have you handled?
  • How many of them were contested?
  • How many of them went to trial?
  • Did any of these cases involve an expert witness?
  • How many were before the judge who will hear my case?
  • What kind of decisions does this judge usually make?
  • Have you ever appealed a case, and if so, what were the issue(s) appealed?
  • How many of these appealed cases did you win? (Remember that even an excellent attorney will lose a case.)

  Questions to ask about attorney fees and costs

  • What are your fees? What do they cover? Is this an hourly fee or a flat fee for the entire case?
  • Is there an additional charge for appearing in court?
  • Do you ever charge less for people who do not have much money?
  • Do you charge a retainer? How much? What does it cover? Do you refund all or part of the retainer if my case is dropped or not taking much time? (Attorneys should be willing to refund any part of the retainer that was not spent.)
  • Are there other expenses that I may have to pay? What are they? How much are they likely to be?
  • Will you be the only person working on my case? What will other people do? How will I be charged for their work? Will I be charged for speaking to your secretary and or receptionist?
  • Are there ways that I can assist you to lower my costs?
  • Will you send me a copy of letters, documents, and court papers you file or receive regarding my case?
  • Do you charge extra if the case gets more complicated, or we return to court?
  • Will you require me to pay everything I owe you before we go to court or finish my case? (Many attorneys do this. They may also refuse to return your original papers or copies of your file, and in some states, this may be legal. Therefore, you should insist on getting a copy of any paper filed with the court or given or received from another party or otherwise relevant to your case. Keep all of them in a safe place in case you ever need them).
  • Are you willing to work out a payment plan?
  • Will you put our agreement about fees and work you will perform in writing?

Questions to ask about cases involving domestic violence

  • How much experience have you had with cases involving domestic violence? Which party did you represent (the victim, the abuser, or the children)?
  • Do you generally believe women who tell you that they have been battered?
  • Will you go to court with women wanting to obtain orders of protection against their abused?
  • How sympathetic to bettered women are the judges who will hear my case?
  • What are the laws of this state regarding which parent should be given custody when one parent has abused the other parent? Does the judge(s) who will probably hear my case follow these laws? What do they usually recommend?
  • What do you think about mediation in cases where there has been domestic violence?
  • Does the expert witness likely to be involved understand the need to protect battered women and children?
  • What kind of custody and visitation arrangements do they usually recommend in cases involving domestic violence?
  • Does the judge usually follow the expert witness’ recommendations?
  • Do you have a working relationship with the local battered women’s program? If so, which one(s)?
  • Does your office have a working relationship with any batterer intervention program, and if so, which one(s)?
  • How helpful is the prosecutor’s office in handling domestic violence cases?

Questions to ask about contested custody cases

  • Do you usually believe mothers who tell you that their children’s father has physically or sexually abused them?
  • How do you handle cases where parental alienation syndrome is alleged? (This is a popular theory that blames mothers for turning their children’s affection against the father, most often in cases where the father has abused the mother or the children. The American Psychiatric Association has not validated this claim.)
  • How do the custody evaluators that you work with feel about cases where the father has abused the children? Do they usually believe a mother’s statements about the abuse? What kind of custody and visitation recommendations do they usually make?
  • How does the judge who will probably decide my case feel about cases where there is child abuse by the father? Do they believe the mother who has made reports about the child abuse and or sexual abuse?
  • Will someone be appointed for the children, and how will that person handle the father’s child and or sexual abuse?
  • Will it matter if the child protective agency has substantiated the abuse? Will it matter if the father was convicted or pled guilty to the abuse in a criminal case? What do you do to protect children in cases when you know that their father is abusing them? Are you willing to stand up for my case, even if it angers the judge?
  • If none of the abuse allegations have been reported yet, what do you recommend about whether to report it now and how to keep my children safe?

Tips for Accessing Resources are Available.

It can seem hard to reach out for support. There are a lot of questions to ask and information to hold onto after a traumatic situation. If you’re unsure of what steps to take, you can contact an advocate 24/7 to learn more tips for accessing resources.