With Help From the Center, Mom Keeps Roof Over Children’s Heads

Aracely* is a strong and silent woman, who above all else takes pride in being a mother. As a factory worker she brought home $1,200 a month. Consistent with a 2013 study by the National Women’s Law Center about the gender wage gap, like most Latinas in California, Aracely only made 43% of what white males garner while performing the same job. Her husband, a construction worker with a drug problem, earned far more than she did. Despite his abuse, unfaithfulness and drug dealing, she stayed with him because he provided some financial support for their children and helped with their house payment.

When her husband went to prison for a drug conviction, Aracely faced losing their home. She could not afford the mortgage without his income. Determined to keep the house, Aracely negotiated a lower monthly payment on her own, but knew she would need professional assistance with a divorce, custody and child support. Her niece recommended the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law. At her first visit, Aracely stressed that her main concern was to get financial help from her husband. He had been released from prison, but was not contributing any money to their mortgage payment, nor furnishing support for their children, leaving Aracely to be the sole provider and caretaker of their family.

Buhai staff attorneys understood that an order for support was needed quickly. Aracely’s earnings alone could not keep the house out of foreclosure. Since she was the only parent paying the mortgage and supporting their three kids, Buhai lawyers and volunteers fought for Aracely’s sole ownership of the home and full custody. Through diligent lawyering, Center attorneys persuaded the judge to grant her petition for divorce, and award Aracely full custody, child support and title to the house. She is now able to make the monthly payments, and continues to raise her kids in their childhood home. Aracely said she is blessed to have been a Center client because “in her community, women do not have money for a lawyer.”

As the demographics of Los Angeles have changed in the last 25 years, poor Latinas have become the largest single group of individuals aided by the Center. With funding help from the Los Angeles County and Supervisor Gloria Molina, the Center has increased its assistance to Latinas. The Center now has several neighborhood outreach sites to make first appointments more accessible, providing legal advice and consultations to hundreds of Latinas a year. Buhai staff members, many from the Latina communities themselves, work hard to provide a supportive, comfortable and familiar environment for women whose culture they understand. The Center has partnered with the Southern California School of Interpretation to provide volunteer translators for written and oral work, to further legal services to Latinas who speak only Spanish, and, because Center does not have citizenship requirements for services, the door is wide open for help.

*Name has been changed to protect our client.