Andi’s Story

 

Andi is a 39-year-old mother who lives in New Westminster, BC.

 

Andi first experienced abuse within the foster care system. When she left it at the age of 19, she was a mother with no means of support. In an attempt to discontinue what she saw as cyclical dysfunction in her own life, Andi made the painful decision to relinquish custody of her daughter, then two years old, believing her daughter would have the opportunities Andi knew she could not provide.

 

As is common for parents who experience the loss of their children, Andi self-medicated with drugs and alcohol to cope. At age 20 she entered treatment, but left soon and after entered what would become a dysfunctional 14-year relationship.

 

Eight years later, Andi gave birth to her second child. Her partner left them within the first year of their child’s life, leaving Andi solely responsible for their child’s physical and financial needs. Emotional co-dependency made it difficult for her to end the relationship despite its unhealthy nature, and he maintained a sporadic presence in their lives. Andi finally severed ties to her partner in 2004. Isolated and without immediate family of her own, Andi continued to support her daughter’s relationship with his parents, despite value differences that created increasing conflict with them.

 

Andi returned to school to further her education and employment prospects. After three years of failed mediation and no outcomes, Andi ended up in Provincial Court and was granted Sole Custody and Sole Guardianship. Her ex was ordered to pay $83/month in child support, although he did not pay it.

 

By then, Andi was in a new, healthy relationship. In July 2006 she had a lucrative opportunity to move to Alberta. Her ex lived in Alberta himself and she proposed regular access with him directly and yearly visitation with his parents. Her daughter’s paternal grandparents retained a lawyer for their son and instigated legal proceedings to stop Andi from leaving BC. Her ex relocated to the Gulf Islands in BC for the duration of the proceedings.

 

Andi was ineligible for Legal Aid not only because she earned a mere $200 over the income cut-off, but also because Legal Aid’s current mandate will provide help only to parents attempting to prevent the other parent from moving. As the parent attempting to move, Andi was ineligible regardless.

 

Having been a Support Worker for two years in the Downtown East Side, Andi had comprehensive knowledge of the resources available to her and accessed them all. Her research and the advice she received had no real bearing on legal procedures or the courtroom dialogues she faced.  She experienced immense trauma in self-representing.  Her entire life was put on trial.

 

Andi was forced to self-represent in three hearings over a five-month period. She was legally prevented from moving, and her ex was granted Joint Custody and the extensive access he and his parents sought.

 

As many people do, Andi lives paycheque to paycheque. Meeting BC’s high cost of living while raising a child and repaying student loans left her with no savings. By October 2006, Andi was homeless, unemployable and back on welfare. She required three years of intensive trauma therapy to recover from the impacts of self-representation, and remains in counselling to date.

 

Andi now works for Chrysalis Society, an organization in Vancouver that operates recovery homes for women seriously impacted by addiction, violence, homelessness, exploitation and poverty. She continues to manage the impacts of being court-ordered to remain in BC. Andi’s daughter, now 12, continues to have extensive access with both her father and his parents. Andi’s ex continues to avoid child support payments.

 

Andi’s story clearly illustrates not only the harmful impacts of a failing Legal Aid system, but how cycles of poverty and marginalization can become generational, perpetual, and pervasive, with devastating social costs.

 

Real justice means fair access. We need Legal Aid.

 

Legal Aid in BC is provided by the LSS. Financial and issue eligibility requirements for legal aid in BC change and are adjusted by the LSS in response to the funds available to them from time to time. For information on current eligibility requirements visit www.lss.bc.ca