Speaking of Women's Rights: Doing What it Takes: Maresa's Perseverance and Journey to Legal Voice

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doing What it Takes: Maresa's Perseverance and Journey to Legal Voice

By Phil Bouie

“I don’t like when people refer to me as being a strong mom. I’m just doing whatever I need to do to provide for and protect my children. I signed up for this when I became a mother.” 

– Maresa Harden

Maresa Harden had been in a relationship with the father of her children for several years before things took a turn for the worse. He became violent, verbally abusive, and would use intimidation tactics such as breaking her cellphone as an attempt to subjugate her. Maresa’s former partner began using their children as a tool of spite. He would withhold the children from her, sporadically change the times when they were picked up and dropped off, continuously be inconsistent about his availability and conceal information about his visits with the children. He felt he could get away with this blatant lack of accountability because she didn’t have an official parenting plan.

Even though the Washington State Parenting Act helps protect domestic violence survivors and ensure a safe and healthy upbringing for their children by requiring certain restrictions on the abused parent, domestic violence survivors are routinely told to “work it out” through a divorce or custody case. It’s also very common for survivors to be wrongfully granted short-term protection orders rather than a long-term order that suits the situation appropriately. Legal Voice works in Olympia to pass strong laws to protect survivors, but creating those laws is only the first step. We monitor Washington courts to ensure those laws are being followed properly.

Maresa could not afford a lawyer. She was unsure and somewhat frightened of how the process would play out. Could she put her trust in the courts to do the right thing for her and her children? Maresa went to the Pierce County court to file for a temporary parenting plan and found out that she could not put her full trust in the judicial system. The judge granted Maresa a temporary parenting plan and acknowledged her former partner’s history of domestic violence. However, the judge refused to include the father’s history of domestic violence in the court documents. The judge claimed that the charge would “follow him around like some ghost.”

Unsatisfied with the court’s decision, Maresa determined that she needed legal representation if she were to file an appeal.

Legal Voice represented Maresa in her appeal of the parenting plan, arguing that the trial court’s error removed a critical protection created by Washington law. The court’s initial decision left Maresa and her children at risk of further abuse. The decision also left communication guidelines between Maresa and her abuser unresolved. The Court of Appeals agreed with us, reversing the trial court’s decision and demanding a new parenting plan that included restrictions on the father’s decision-making and custody time.

Although the trauma of being a domestic violence survivor is something that never fully subsides, Maresa and her children have persevered, continued to move forward, and are doing well. Maresa recently got a job in her children’s school district that gives her work hours that are more compatible with the lives of her children. Maresa’s oldest daughter is involved with several sports teams and participating in a program for excellent students. She is one of three students that was selected from each school in the district that will have an opportunity to meet with Mayor Jim Ferrell of Federal Way as part of a Communities in School fundraising event. Maresa’s youngest daughter has had perfect attendance for the entire school year while excelling in all of her classes, and has recently earned a student of the month award.

“Legal Voice made it financially possible for this to happen. It wasn’t an option without them,” said Maresa when I met with her recently to discuss her case. “The way that David [Ward] approaches things, his demeanor and his professionalism are awesome.

“I want people to know there are organizations like Legal Voice that fight will for you and victims experiencing trauma in Washington State. I want to thank Legal Voice and the donors and supporters of Legal Voice who made this all possible.” Fighting for Maresa has allowed her family to focus on life and achieve success.

Phil Bouie is the Development Officer for Legal Voice. He is inspired by Maresa's story and urges you to participate in GiveBIG to support this ongoing, critical work.