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Legal Aid DC Supports Client Through Custodial Hearing


The DC Bar Foundation is proud to fund legal services organizations in DC that help residents during times of crisis.


Legal Aid of the District of Columbia (or Legal Aid DC)—a DCBF grantee partner—is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides a continuum of legal services to clients in domestic violence and family law, housing, public benefits, and consumer law. In addition to providing direct representation, they help clients avoid unnecessary legal entanglements through outreach and education. They also seek structural solutions, including changes in law or regulatory schemes to reform government or court practices that benefit their client community.


This client story highlights how the Family Law Assistance Network (FLAN) helps clients through family law and custodial proceedings. FLAN is a joint project of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, the DC Affordable Law Firm, and Legal Aid of the District of Columbia. FLAN offers individuals confidential, free or low-cost legal advice or representation in custody, child support, parentage, and divorce cases heard in the Domestic Relations Branch of the DC Superior Court. 


In 2023, Ms. Marshall (whose name was changed to protect her privacy) came to the Family Law Assistance Network’s (FLAN) office located in DC Superior Court. There, she met with a Legal Aid Project Attorney who helped her understand what was happening in her custody case, counseled her on the next steps, and represented her at her next hearing. 


Ms. Marshall originally came to the FLAN office for help with a Motion for Contempt that her child’s father had filed against her in their ongoing custody case. The Court scheduled a hearing for the following month. In his Motion for Contempt, the father alleged that Ms. Marshall violated the current Custody and Visitation Order and claimed that he had not seen their minor child for months. Ms. Marshall was confused for several reasons.


  1. The parties had a mediated agreement that the judge never signed, and it was unclear which custody arrangement should be enforced.

  2. Ms. Marshall was confused by the allegation that the child’s father had not seen the child. She explained that the father had seen the child regularly, other than when he stopped visiting due to his own medical condition; she said she had evidence and documentation to support her position.

  3. The Judge scheduled the hearing because Ms. Marshall had not filed a responsive pleading to the Motion for Contempt. Ms. Marshall had since filed an Opposition but was unsure whether it was done properly or what additional steps she needed to take to avoid contempt. 

 

With the help of the Project Attorney, Ms. Marshall was able to address each of her concerns that day and prepare for the upcoming hearing. She helped Ms. Marshall identify and organize what evidence she should bring to the hearing to show that the father regularly visited the child. Ms. Marshall knew the allegations in the Motion for Contempt were untrue, but she was concerned about the upcoming hearing and how it could impact her custodial time with the child. 


The Project Attorney agreed to appear with Ms. Marshall at the contempt hearing. During the hearing, the Project Attorney successfully explained to the Court the confusion surrounding the mediated agreement, demonstrated that Ms. Marshall was not bound by the more expansive visitation provision, and presented evidence that the father was regularly visiting with the child. Thanks to the Project Attorney’s presentation of the procedural posture and evidence, the Judge found that Ms. Marshall was not in contempt. 


The presence of the Project Attorney kept a confusing procedural issue from causing an erroneous contempt finding that could have significantly impacted the client’s custodial time and the outcome of the case moving forward.


Please visit the DCBF website to learn more about how the DC Bar Foundation supports grantee partners like Legal Aid DC.

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