Stopping the Lethal Threat to Her Children

“Daddy has a gun!” Renata’s* 10-year- old son blurted out when she picked him and his two brothers up from their dad’s custody.  Her son found the gun in their bedroom dresser drawer and took photos of it. That day, the boys had been left alone until after midnight.  Alarmed when she saw the photos, Renata appealed to child welfare services and police. But, her ex-partner’s lack of cooperation stymied the investigation.  With the help of the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law and fueled by her determination to create a secure and safe life for her family,  Renata obtained an emergency and then final change of custody order for her children. Now, she and her boys live in their own home with a brighter future together.

A Downward Spiral and Hitting Rock Bottom

Earlier during her relationship with the boys’ father, Renata suffered his abuse and took drugs with him. When he was sent to prison on weapons charges, Renata was left alone with a newborn baby and two other children under five years of age.  They separated after his release, and the family did not see him very often.  Bereft of family support, she and the boys became homeless, living hand to mouth in their van. Throughout this time, the boys remained close to her and attended school. She tried as best she could to create stability in their fragile home.

But, her addiction unraveled their lives. She lost custody of her sons who were placed with their father for several months by a judge in Children’s Court.  Hitting rock bottom, she vowed to get her boys back. She got sober and complied with every court order for participation in therapy, substance abuse and domestic violence programs, and parenting classes.  After she accomplished these steps, the judge changed the order to shared custody and closed the case.  But, her ex-partner sabotaged the court order by blocking her calls and refusing to allow the boys to attend court-ordered therapy. Because her sons seemed fearful of their father, Renata went to family court by herself to modify custody but did not succeed.

 The Center’s Help Makes the Difference

Determined to try again to help her kids, Renata was referred to the Center by a domestic violence program where she lived and received services.  Her case at the Center had been opened when the Pandemic lockdown happened, and the boys’ isolation with their dad made her even more anxious.  After she saw the gun photos, she told her Center lawyer who immediately prepared and filed for an emergency sole custody order. The Center quickly arranged for a volunteer attorney, Nazanin Mani, to represent her in court. The family court judge granted a temporary change of custody to Renata with no visits with their father.  Now, Renata has full custody of her sons maintaining her sobriety and continuing more counseling and other programs. Her ex-partner is not allowed visitation except with express permission of the judge or Renata.  He never appeared at any of the court hearings.

The “Very Best Legal Help”

Through hard work, perseverance, support and advocacy, Renata overcame incredible odds.  She is grateful to the Harriett Buhai Center for the “very best legal help” and a second chance for her family to thrive.  She is committed to helping other women facing similar struggles and leads a support group at the domestic violence program. This year, she plans to get her high school diploma with the goal of becoming a substance abuse counselor.

* Client’s name and photo have been changed to protect her privacy.

October 2021