Lori, a Marine veteran, was being emotionally and verbally abused during her relationship with Kenny, a police officer and detective. Lori had never experienced abuse in a relationship before until she met Kenny, so it took time for Lori to see her boyfriend’s true colors. As soon as she could, she decided to get out. At this point though, she was pregnant with Kenny’s child. Kenny continued to emotionally abuse her and even attempted to gain full custody of their child on the day she was born.
“I had never been in a toxic relationship before so it took me some time to realize how his behaviors really were. He started getting upset over things that weren’t actually happening. He would give me rules like not to stand a certain distance within other men. He would also hover over me when we would go to bars so that he could ensure everyone in the bar knew I was with him. I started noticing these patterns of behavior and broke up with him,” said Lori.
After a seven month separation, Lori decided to give their relationship one more shot during which she became pregnant with their child. Kenny’s behavior worsened and Lori made a brave decision to break off the relationship and leave Texas.
Lori moved back home to Montana, enrolled in school, obtained a job, and became established in that state. Soon thereafter, Kenny filed a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) in Texas. He sought to be the primary conservator of the child and exclude Lori from access to the newborn including denying her access to breastfeed the child.
Kenny filed a complaint against her with Child Protective Services (CPS), claiming Lori had prior history of substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, which was a lie so her case was quickly closed out.
“He immediately called CPS on me to try and leave a paper trail as if I am an unfit parent. He lied to CPS about things that happened in my previous marriage and divorce.”
Lori contacted Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) and applied for legal representation. Because Lori lived in Montana, the case against her fell under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) as the courts had to decide which state had jurisdiction to hear the case. LSLA filed pleadings arguing jurisdiction and asking the court to dismiss the Texas case. After the hearing, the judge set up a judge’s conference between the Montana court and the Texas court.
Cheranda Robertson, staff attorney in LSLA’s Richmond office, called Montana Legal Aid Association (MLAA) and spoke with the managing attorney who agreed to take her case after Lori applied for their help with the case in Montana. Robertson and MLAA attorneys worked together to research legal arguments, sorted through case law, and develop a game plan for the case in Montana.
The two judges ruled in favor of Lori and ordered that Montana was the proper venue for the case. Lori was extremely relieved that she did not have to move to Texas to participate in the case. She never had to leave Montana and was able to participate in every Zoom meeting as part of the remote process.
“It was a big victory for LSLA. I feel confident that Lori is now in the hands of Montana’s legal aid agency and is in a great position to proceed with the case up there,” Robertson said.
Lori’s attorneys are working with the Montana courts to set up a visitation agreement. Lori is still experiencing stress but is glad she has a supportive family network to help her through the trauma. She wants other victims of domestic abuse to know about the outstanding work LSLA did to get her and her child away from Kenny. In addition, she also has advice for others being victimized in a relationship.
“Cheranda went above and beyond to help. She represented me well and got the points across and won what we needed to win in order to get the Texas case closed. She also helped get me fully represented here in Montana. She spoke with MLAA multiple times. She always kept me in the loop and made me feel at ease when I was very stressed out,” Lori said. “The best thing I could have done in my situation was to leave. I was not happy and it was a continuous cycle of events where I was left feeling defeated, guilty, or afraid. The abusers will not change and they always make you feel like you’re the one that’s wrong,” Lori said.
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the individual(s).