Jamie Stinson is an associate in the Special Matters and Investigations practice in the New York office of King & Spalding. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Awards and Benefit.
At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Cahill associate Margaret Barone for her dedicated and compassionate representation of Maria, a mother with a special-needs child, who escaped her abusive partner after he pressured her into leaving behind her professional career in her home country—making her financially dependent on him. Through Margaret’s tireless efforts, Maria won court-ordered enforcement of critical provisions of her post-divorce agreements, allowing her to provide the support and care that her son so desperately needed.
Isolated by an Abuser
Maria had a thriving career in Mexico before being tricked into moving to the United States by her abuser. Subject to abuse and the loss of her economic freedom, Maria struggled to provide for herself and her son, who has special needs. Through a long and hard-fought legal process, in part with prior assistance from Sanctuary, Maria finalized her divorce, and procured a custody agreement as well as a financial settlement.
Various issues related to the agreements arose. Maria is the primary custodial parent, but shares joint legal custody with her ex-husband. Maria is a fierce advocate for her son to receive better services through the Board of Education to meet his complex needs but her ex-husband was effectively blocking her efforts and failed to participate in parent coordination meetings as required by the custody agreement. In addition, he missed many deadlines on financial obligations and deliberately misinterpreted the financial agreement so as to deprive Maria and her son of support that he was required to pay.
Enforcing Her Client’s Rights
When Margaret took over the case, she dove head first into addressing the myriad issues related to both Maria’s rights under the custody and financial agreements, as well as those related to addressing the needs of Maria’s son. The stakes were clear as emotions ran high in Margaret’s first meeting with Maria, who explained that all of this work was in service of fighting for her child. Recalling the meeting, Margaret said, “It makes you want to do everything you can as quickly as possible.”
Margaret worked closely with Sanctuary’s Director of the Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project, Amanda Norejko, in order to formulate next steps. Margaret drafted an extensive, several-inches-thick motion and memorandum of law (totaling 51 pages) to help Maria enforce her agreement in Manhattan Supreme Court. This motion required in-depth analysis of evaluations by medical and educational experts to show how the abuser’s obstruction impacted their special needs child. In the course of organizing more than thirty motion exhibits, Margaret poured over custody agreements, a lengthy financial stipulation, and countless emails in order to demonstrate exactly how the abuser had violated relevant provisions and disrupted their child’s special needs services. She also made herself available for late night and weekend telephone calls and meetings with Maria to assist her both with legal strategy and with her emotional response to the abuser’s hostile communications with her regarding their son.
As a result of Margaret’s efforts, the court ordered the abuser to comply with the terms of the custody agreement and to make the payments he was refusing to make. In addition, Maria’s educational hearing against the Board of Education to get her son into a special school can now proceed unobstructed by the abuser. When asked about how she approached the case, Margaret explained that she worked to tell a compelling story with the motion so that the judge could understand the unique situation.
Working Together to Move Forward
Margaret’s dedicated efforts continue. While Maria has already begun to receive funds owed to her, there will be ongoing representation related to enforcement of the order, including court appearances and client meetings. In addition, Margaret continues to assist Maria in preparing proposals to present at parent coordination meetings to obtain the father’s cooperation in enrolling the child in a special school. Margaret looks forward to continuing to work with Maria and with Sanctuary.
Sanctuary’s Amanda Norejko praised Margaret, stating,
“Margaret’s hard work, diligence, excellent legal analysis and writing skills have given this mother the opportunity for a brighter future for herself and her son that she desperately desired.”
Reflecting on her experience so far, Margaret said, “It was wonderful working with Amanda [from Sanctuary], to have the opportunity to work with someone who is an expert in this field. You can lose sight of how much legal work can matter. Working one-on-one with a client makes you realize that you can make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
Maria also stated her appreciation for Margaret’s dedicated efforts:
“My son and I have been enormously blessed . . . with the valuable assistance of Margaret whom I can only thank forever with all my heart as a mother and as a woman and as a minority.”
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Margaret’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event here.
If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.