"I am the mother of a child with autism and I am dragged through the courts by my ex-husband after my house had burned down in a fire”
How to deal with two court cases, when you have a child with autism, who needs constant supervision, your house burned down, and your ex-husband claims not only compensation for the fire, but also a reduction in the child maintenance allowance. It is the story of Angela Sandu (changed name), 54 years old, from a town in the center of the country. For her, 2020 brought not only the pandemic crisis, but also a few court sessions, in which she had to respond to the complaints and claims of her ex-husband. Her rescue came from a paralegal and a lawyer from the state-guaranteed legal aid system.
"I cannot afford to get sick or die, there is no one to take care of my child" - for Angela, her son, Cristi (28 years old) is the center of the universe. Diagnosed with autism, the young man needs constant attention, so his mother is his personal assistant. The salary for this service and maintenance allowance are the only income of the family. Since the coronavirus pandemic stared, Angela has temporarily given up the small business that brought her additional income– a hair salon open in the courtyard of her house. Since spring, no client has crossed its threshold - at first because there was a ban of the authorities, and then for fear of catching the virus.
Angela lives alone with her son; her marriage being ruined by violence. Beatings and psychological abuse were part of her life all 18 years of marriage: "I was afraid to make a change. I felt like a slave. I was reading the Bible, this was my refuge, and I read I should save my family. But in the end, it was also about my life, which was in danger. Lately, before the divorce, my husband threatened me with death.” She took the decision to leave when she realized she was putting her life at risk by staying under the same roof with the aggressor.
She left the house without taking clothes or any other belongings. The first month she took shelter at a center for children with disabilities – sleeping on a folding bed. Shortly after, an organization specializing in the protection of survivors of gender-based violence supported her so she could pay her rent for half a year.
She started her life all over again
In her new life, free from violence, Angela learned to cope on her own and take responsible decisions.
"At a youth center I was offered the position of supply manager. At first, I was scared, it seemed to me a huge responsibility. That's because throughout my marriage, I had no right to an opinion. My husband wouldn't even let me choose the sheets for the bed. He bought everything; he took decisions. And my responsibilities at the center implied to organize thinks, to make purchases, to provide the center with all the necessary".
She overcame her fear and learned in the process and gained the respect of her colleagues.
To get the divorce and divide the assets, she went through several court sessions; the whole process lasted for months.
"This period has been very complicated for me. Our assets were not yet divided; my ex-husband was attacking me - he was intruding into my space abusively. I called the police, he was fined several times and warned by law enforcement bodies.”
The court decided that the household should be divided in half between the two ex-spouses.
"The ex-husband took his part of the household, I stayed with mine. We also installed a fence to separate us. I was very happy with that fence that separated us, I wanted to kiss it, so dear it was to me”.
The fence not only separated the part of the house and yard, but also gave her a sense of protection.
The fire destroyed her house and brought her a new trial
The ex-husband did not come to remember Angela and Cristi until 2019, when a devastating fire almost completely destroyed the part of the house that belonged to the woman. Firefighters assumed that the fire started due to a short circuit in the kitchen or incorrect use of natural gas.
Angela and Cristi had to stay outside, under the open sky. Thanks to a fundraising campaign, she managed to renovate her part of the house, but also repair the rooms that belong to her ex-husband.
The man decided to sue her, claiming that the fire severely damaged his home. The amount he is asking for – 140 thousand lei – seems to be a cosmic one for Angela.
In line with the housing claims, he filed another lawsuit, claiming to pay less for the child maintenance allowance – MDL300 instead of MDL600.
Angela says that she would not have faced two court trials, carried out in parallel, if she had not benefited from the services of a paralegal who, in turn, helped her benefit from a paid lawyer ex officio and win one of the two trials, so that the maintenance allowance for Cristi would not be affected.
"The court ordered him to pay in full, according to the law. He complied. He has no choice. The law is for all," says the woman.
Angela thinks that paralegals and lawyers in the state-guaranteed legal aid system are a rescue for people with modest incomes, who do not afford to pay for such services, but who are in dire need of legal assistance. It was very easy for her to benefit from this service - she made a telephone appointment, after which she came to the office, had a conversation with the paralegal and was helped to prepare the whole package of documents - the application, the statement, etc.
Now the woman is preparing, together with the lawyer, for the fifth court hearing in the lawsuit filed by her ex-husband in connection with the fire and is sure that justice will be delivered.
Who can benefit from state-guaranteed legal assistance?
Like Angela, every year, more than 60,000 women and men in Moldova benefit freely from legal assistance guaranteed by the state.
The services of a lawyer paid by the state is available to persons who are part of a criminal, civil, contraventional or administrative proceeding, but do not have sufficient means to cover this service, or have been arrested as part of a criminal or contraventional proceeding. Legal assistance guaranteed by the state is also provided to children who are victims of crimes, but also to adult victims of domestic violence or sexual life crimes. Free legal assistance (primary or qualified) can be obtained by addressing a paralegal that serves the respective community or by requesting assistance from one of the four territorial offices of the National Legal Aid Council. From June, this type of assistance can also be requested online, with the use of electronic signature (details on www.cnajgs.md).
Strengthening access to justice is the objective of a large-scale project implemented by UNDP and Sweden
Increasing access to justice for people from vulnerable groups – such as victims of domestic violence or people with disabilities, is also one of the objectives of the project "Strengthening efficiency and access to justice", implemented by UNDP and Sweden, in partnership with two non–governmental organizations - Invento and the Institute for Penal Reform.
The implementation partners will contribute to increasing coordination and cooperation between the key actors in the justice sector in the four project’s implementation regions (Soroca, Criuleni, Cimislia and Comrat). Dialogue platforms will be set up to identify solutions to problems related to efficiency and access to justice for the local population. Also, through the project will be organized training sessions for justice professionals from Soroca, Criuleni, Cimislia and Comrat districts.
Also, capacity-development activities will be conducted for four local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), so that they can participate effectively in a constructive dialogue with actors in the justice chain and be pro-actively involved in claiming the rights of litigants. The partner NGOs will subsequently become a source of information and expertise for local authorities, but also for men and women in the target communities.