Reflections of a Public Interest Grant Recipient Providing Family Law Services to Veterans
I am currently a third year law student at UC Davis School of Law. This past summer I worked at Levitt and Quinn (LQ) Family Law Center in Los Angeles where I participated in the AmeriCorps program, providing family law services to homeless and low-income veterans. As a recipient of the Public Interest Grant from the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation, I was able to expand the scope of my assistance by developing a presentation and brochure designed to empower local veterans to understand and exercise their legal rights.
During my summer, I assisted 19 veterans with various family law issues ranging from child support and custody to marital dissolution. I also assisted in conducting intake and consultation for about 200 individuals in need of family law services. After meeting with clients, doing consultations, visiting service providers and doing legal research, I discovered that veterans in general are often unaware of the process of starting and/or responding to a family law case. For example, many veterans could not find work because of a suspended driver’s license or were not aware of how to modify their hefty child support obligations based on current income. With the funds from the Public Interest Grant, I produced a “Know Your Rights” presentation for veterans to address these and other issues. I gave presentations at New Directions and the Sepulveda clinic. My presentation covers the topics that veterans need most assistance with: child support, divorce and what is included as “income” when determining the amount of child support that must be paid.
To go along with the presentation, I created a brochure outlining the major points to make veterans aware of their rights. The brochures also contain information specific to Los Angeles County. It advises veterans where to file their paperwork for court orders relating to family law and where to obtain a copy of their complete case file so that they can stay informed of the status of their case(s). Child support is one of the most important family law issues that homeless veterans face. The brochure contains information on how to reduce child support obligations or set up a payment plan and reminds veterans that their VA benefits can be included as “income” when the state determines how much a parent has to pay in child support. The importance of obtaining a complete case file is also stressed. The brochure directs veterans to the appropriate locations at the courthouse to get copies of their complete case file. This is essential because when veterans go to see an attorney for legal assistance, the attorney needs to be able to see everything that has happened in the case(s), including all relevant dates.
The brochure will be distributed to local veteran service providers, self-help centers and other veteran support groups. I am happy to know that these resources will be continued to be used in the future to help veterans with their family law issues.
In addition to developing the Know Your Rights presentation and brochure, I developed many skills throughout my internship at LQ. The two most important are: 1) the ability to do effective legal research and writing and 2) how to draft legal documents for a variety of family law issues. Additionally, my workload overall was balanced and diverse. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to do many different types of assignments including drafting motions, drafting court documents, legal research, child support calculations, sitting in on client consultations, and participating in community outreach programs for homeless veterans.
Overall, my summer internship experience at LQ was rewarding and I am so thankful to have worked with everyone there. The most satisfying thing about my internship experience was the ability to work with homeless veterans and the indigent population. It is very rewarding knowing that I was able to assist clients who could not otherwise afford legal services. There is also a great need to provide family law services to veterans who are often unaware of how to approach the family court system. Thank you especially to WLALA for the financial assistance in making this experience possible.
Megha Bhatt is the 2014 Fran Kandel Public Interest Grant Recipient.