Maria Shriver Praises Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law

As part of her quest to learn more about women struggling to make ends meet, investigative journalist Maria Shriver (pictured with Executive Director Betty Nordwind) visited the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law in early 2013. She spent the day in an intimate conversation with 4 of the Center’s clients and met with some of the Center’s staff and Board. The experience left a strong impression, warranting a prominent place of mention in Shriver’s new report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.

Shriver saw the clear connection between family law and the economic vulnerability of women, and praised the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law for providing free legal assistance to help poor women stabilize their lives and become more independent. She commented favorably upon the Center’s large volunteer lawyer program as a low-cost solution to leverage thousands of additional hours of services, and recommended that the Center be replicated throughout the U.S.

During her visit to the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, Shriver learned more about the economic abuse faced by many female clients: the meager rationing of household income, their ignorance of family finances, obstacles placed by their partners to their employment and education, and a shared feeling of powerlessness. The 4 women described to Shriver their desperation when they contacted the Center for help and their relief when it was provided compassionately, respectfully and amazingly, at no cost. One woman, Betsy, called the Center lawyers and volunteers her “Dream Team” (read below Betsy’s story of how her “Dream Team” at the Center prevented her from becoming homeless).

One Woman’s “Dream Team” — How Lawyers from the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law Prevented One Woman from Becoming Homeless

After marrying her high school sweetheart and raising 2 children with him, Betsy* was devastated when their 28 year marriage finally fell apart and her income plummeted. She lost her job and her unemployment benefits were used up. Swallowing her pride, she was forced to depend on the kindness of her adult daughter to survive. Betsy’s husband, now living in another state, had no intention of sharing his community property pension with her.

At 52 years of age, facing a bleak economic future, Betsy came to the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law scared that she would be homeless. With help from the Center’s staff and volunteers, including Linda Morra, a lawyer specializing in pensions, Betsy was able to secure her interest in her husband’s retirement fund, plus $35,000 owed to her paid in increments added to the monthly pension installment payments. She also received a one-time sum of over $20,000 for monies previously held by the employer’s plan.

No longer facing the specter of poverty, Betsy left the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law with her head held high and her dignity restored. After her case was closed, Betsy wrote a letter of thanks, calling the Center lawyers and volunteers her “dream team.”

Read Betsy’s note of gratitude to her “Dream Team” at the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law!

*Name has been changed to protect our client.