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first person:

women in crisis

           

samarillo is a Mergers & Acquisitions associate in the new york ofce.

In January I had my first meeting with Mrs. M, an unemployed mother of two seeking a contested divorce on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment. Shearman & Sterling does not typically accept contested divorce proceedings, but I felt this was a compelling case and asked the pro bono team to make an exception. The facts that I had been provided regarding Mr. M’s alleged conduct were disturbing and I recall looking forward to my meeting with Mrs. M, eager to help her begin a new life.

I arrived at my first meeting with Mrs. M with an armful of paperwork, but the meeting did not proceed as I had expected. Mrs. M spent much of the time in tears as she related her story of Mr. M’s marital conduct. One of my most meaningful initial acts as Mrs. M’s attorney was to find her a box of tissues, an essential tool of family law that no one had mentioned during my training. Due to the emotional nature of the preliminary fact-finding, it took two meetings to finish

From a legal perspective, Mrs. M’s case is straightfor- ward. Mr. M’s alleged abusive conduct clearly imperiled Mrs. M’s safety. I advised Mrs. M to seek a contested divorce as soon as possible, including a full order of protection excluding Mr. M from the family home and a request for expedited proceedings in view of the gravity of the allegations. Several barriers prevented Mrs. M from accepting this advice. She has no independent income and cannot aord to rent the family apartment. Moving

the paperwork.

to a new apartment is dicult because her daughter is

Mrs. M was referred to Shearman & Sterling by inMotion, a New York nonprofit dedicated to providing free immigration and family law services to low-income women. Shearman & Sterling has supported inMotion since its inception and has been recognized with a Commitment to Justice Award for its work. InMotion notes on its Web site that low-income women seeking divorce in New York face a “daunting array of social issues that often make it almost impossible for them to focus on their legal cases.” So it proved for Mrs. M.

sheArMAn & sterling hAs supported inMotion since its inception And hAs been recognized with A coMMitMent to justice AwArd....

in a special needs program and no comparable programs are available in more affordable areas. Mrs. M is also unwilling to make certain allegations of abuse public because she believes that this would irreparably damage her relationship with her son.

Mrs. M has decided to pursue an uncontested divorce that would not include key allegations of abuse or imme- diately remove Mr. M from the family apartment. She is looking for a job, but her role as primary caregiver for her children and the special needs of her daughter limit Mrs. M’s opportunities. Despite her struggles, Mrs. M has expressed gratitude for the time and eort spent on her case; because Mrs. M has nowhere else to turn, an attentive ear and a source of advice represent at least some hope.

Although pro bono representation of clients in such dicult situations can be frustrating, these are the very clients most desperately in need of legal assistance. My representation of Mrs. M will continue as we file divorce papers and attempt to secure exclusive occupancy of the family apartment for her and her children.

sheArMAn & sterling | proActive | 2

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