LAA family lawyers Vanessa Cork, based in Lethbridge, and Kevin Livingstone, in Wetaskiwin, work with families in crisis.
Domestic violence is an unfortunate reality in Alberta communities large and small.
Legal Aid Alberta has staff and lawyers in nine offices around the province who work with families in crisis on issues ranging from spousal separation to child welfare to domestic violence.
Their job is to guide Albertans through the complexities of the legal system and provide advice that puts their safety and future first.
When you do important work like this in courtrooms every day, you gain some important insights into what’s happening in Alberta households.
LAA family lawyer Vanessa Cork in Lethbridge says she’s seeing more extreme cases of severe physical and sexual assaults lately and drugs are often a factor.
“A lot of times somebody in the home will be consuming illegal substances and their behaviour escalates,” she says.
Cork represents parents in child welfare cases and is often appointed as legal counsel to children anywhere from 1-16 years old.
She also does some safety planning for her clients – contacting friends to let them know what’s going on and providing legal advice, especially if there are children involved.
Coming forward to report a domestic assault can be an intimidating process.
“I think there’s reluctance for some people,” says LAA family lawyer Kevin Livingstone in Wetaskiwin. “If they go to the police, do they want to have somebody charged, go to court, and be a witness, and all of that? What if the police call children’s services?
“I can guide them and make it a more friendly process,” he says. “To be able to break it down into manageable chunks, it really eases their minds. They get less worked up about it and are able to do other things in life instead of having to focus on the court battle.”
LAA lawyers are noticing another common domestic situation in Alberta: more people are living together longer after they separate, for financial reasons, which can create conflict.
Stay-at-home moms, for example, often find themselves in a tricky position after a break up because they lack independent financial resources.
In recent years, LAA lawyers have seen many cases of domestic violence after home foreclosures and job loss, causing extra stress to families.