Finding a Way Out

Elise Rosales* was terrified. Her ex-husband had attacked her outside her place of work, knocking her down, punching her with his fists and kicking her.

“I’m taking the kids,” he told her, “and you’re dead.”

Elise was left bleeding on the ground. Her ex-husband didn’t yet know where she and her children were living, she thought, but how long would it be before he found them?

On that terrible day, dazed with pain and shock, Elise could think of only one place to go to for help: the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law.

“Elise showed up in our waiting room with a big knot on her forehead and bruising everywhere,” says Buhai Center lawyer Cheryl Segal. “You could see the fear on her face.”

Segal’s first encounter with Elise was four years earlier at a domestic violence program, one of the many community facilities visited by Buhai Center lawyers to inform victims of their legal rights.

At that initial meeting, the desperate mother of three was too traumatized to even consider legal action against her violently abusive husband.

A concerned counselor told Segal that Elise’s husband had served time for assault and apparently had gang ties. For the next several months, Segal tried to convince Elise to take the first legal step: a restraining order.

Like so many victims of chronic domestic abuse, however, Elise was scared, confused and demoralized. Elise told Segal that she had begun to wonder if suicide was her only way out.

Then one night, Elise’s husband attacked her young teenage daughter from her first marriage. The need to protect her children overrode Elise’s fear. She asked Segal to begin legal proceedings.

The Buhai Center solicited one of the dedicated attorneys on its Pro Bono Panel, Charles Ver Hoeve, to represent Elise. Through multiple court dates and many hours of effort on the part of Ver Hoeve and Segal, Elise won a restraining order against her husband, who was by then serving prison time for violence against his stepdaughter.

Elise filed for divorce and changed her residence. Later her divorce was finalized. The day-to-day abuse ended, but the ex-husband’s intimidation and threats continued through family members. Ver Hoeve and the Center logged still more hours on Elise’s behalf, going to court and seeking supportive resources for Elise, who relocated again when her ex-husband was released from prison.

Ver Hoeve helped Elise file police reports, protected her with strategic safety planning when she had to appear in court in person and met with her in confidential locations to avoid discovery by her ex-husband or his associates.

Elise called the Center frequently, talking to Segal for advice and reassurance.

“I call Cheryl just to talk,” Elise says. “It’s like having a good friend. Sometimes I cry, because it’s a trauma I just can’t get over, especially for my kids.”

Several years later, Segal was astonished to learn that Elise’s ex-husband had filed for custody of their two young children. She informed Ver Hoeve, who went to court immediately on Elise’s behalf and put a stop to the effort.

Despite all that had happened, Elise had been unable to persuade her employer of 15 years to transfer her to another job location. Unfortunately, that meant after losing his custody suit, Elise’s ex-husband knew where to target her for the brutal assault.

Within hours of learning of his vicious attack, Buhai Center staff attorney Segal and pro bono lawyer Ver Hoeve sprang into action. They ensured that criminal charges where filed against the ex-husband and saw that Elise obtained a new temporary restraining order. The Center also interceded with Elise’s employer, facilitating her job transfer.

Ver Hoeve again went to court, representing Elise in the criminal case and filing for a permanent protective restraining order. When the order was issued it was unusually comprehensive, covering Elise, her children, her parents and other family members who had also been targets of the ex-husband’s harassment and threats.

“I just want everything to be over,” Elise says tearfully. “The only thing I want is for him to leave me alone. I want peace of mind.”

She counts the blessings that keep her going: her supportive family, Ver Hoeve, Segal and the entire Buhai Center. “They make me feel protected, because I have people that are there for me. Every question I ask, they are always there.”