What happens during a divorce when abuse is present? How do you safeguard yourself and those you love during those tough times? Divorce can be an incredibly difficult experience, and it gets even more complicated when abuse is involved. With the help of Susan and Tracy in this episode, you’ll learn how to safeguard yourself or your loved ones during these tough times. Knowing the signs of various forms of abuse could prove vital for protecting both yourself and those around you from further harm.
We dive deep into the Golden Globe nominated Netflix miniseries Maid to discuss its portrayal of real-life abusive relationships, the struggles of overcoming abuse, and the uphill legal battle victims face, in a conversation with Katie Welsh – Legal Director of the WCA. Plus, of course, we offer our takes on the Netflix series (SPOILER ALERT!).
Intro: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers and an all female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower Ref Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady, lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law. Share real life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan and Tracy Hightower.
Tracy Hightower-Henne: On today’s podcast, we have Katie Welsh again with us from the Women’s Center for Advancement, and we are going to talk all about Maid on Netflix. And I had to confirm it’s not The Maid, it’s Maid. So, I first watched the show and was like, “We have to talk about this on the podcast. Because throughout the whole ten episodes I was like just flabbergasted. And we also have here today Carrie Ramsay from our office, our marketing specialist. So she’s watched it. And Carrie can also kind of chime in on the non-lawyer mindset of the show because I think that’s really helpful. So, thank you both for being here.
Katie Welsh: Thanks for having me.
Tracy: Yeah, thank you. And if you missed our first episode with Katie from the WCA, go back and listen to that. Or maybe it’s after this. I don’t know. Whenever it was posted, go listen to our podcast about the Women’s Center for Advancement, all of the awesome things that the WCA does in Omaha. So Maid. And I think we should say that there’s going to be a ton of spoiler spoiler alerts about the show. We’re going to talk about it and what happens and all of that. So maybe pause, if you haven’t seen it. Go watch it and then come back and finish this.
Kari Ramsey: Maybe good guidance? Yes.
Tracy: All right. So Carrie, I know when you first saw it. Tell us your thoughts as to working in a law office but not being a lawyer.
Kari: Yeah, yeah, that’s a good question. So, I think the overwhelming feeling that I had watching the show is this can’t this can’t be really how it is. It can’t. How frustrating is this? We were just talking about the the part where the words come up on the screen, the legal eagle, legal legal eagle legal. I mean, that’s what legal language feels like sometimes, right? But just the the endless loops where the character Alex goes through this, she has to. She wants to get this, but she can’t because she has to do this first. And everything is linked to things that make it impossible for her to progress in her life. But I think it was a really good exposure to things that people just don’t want to talk about and don’t know about in our own communities. I see the Women’s Center for Advancement building and I think I don’t even know what they do. And I think it’s hard to think about what’s happening in your own community. And the show does a really good job of not glossing over much, as far as I know. But making it very accessibly exposed that the general population can be aware of something that they don’t even know is happening, but also provide a little bit of hope. Just because it does, it ends pretty well. It has a nice ending, but yeah, there’s a lot of hard things and I think that talking about hard things is kind of what the pandemic has done. That the reality of people’s lives isn’t so beautiful all the time and this show really dives into that.
Tracy: And I think when we talk about domestic violence situations, the ending isn’t always a nice ending. And maybe if we step back a little bit, and kind of just for those of you who haven’t seen Maid on Netflix, it follows the story of a woman, and it’s based on a book – a true story. I haven’t read the book. That doesn’t usually happen. I usually read the book and then watch the show. But it follows a woman who is leaving a domestic violence situation and trying to go through the government assistance programs to find housing, to find a job. And it really, I think it’s nine or 10 episodes, and it shows all of the struggles that she faces trying to get out of this situation and how, you know, she ends up going back into the situation and then getting out again. And all of the different things about her own family, who are sort of there, but not really there. They have their own mental health issues. She has a child. And so it also talks about all the custody things that she faces in court. So, Katie, you know, with the show, obviously you’ve seen it working at the WCA. Tell us, like to Carrie’s comment, is it real? Is this what really happens?
Katie: Yeah, I will say there’s a lot of realness in that series. I think, I was just commenting before we got started here this morning, that I think what I appreciate about this series is that it really depicts the process and it is a process, a long process of leaving. I, to my recollection, I don’t know of any series or movies that depict domestic violence that really go into depth about what a journey it is to like, leave a difficult situation. So I think that’s very much on display here in a way that I haven’t seen before, and it also covers the emotional abuse that I think is so puzzling for the public at large to kind of understand. Many of our clients get asked in the different systems that they are part of – “Well, why didn’t you leave? If it was as bad as you’re describing, why didn’t you leave?” And I think, particularly with emotional abuse, like so you were never hit, you never had to go to the hospital.
Tracy: You never called the police.
Katie: Yeah. So why did you why did you stay for so long? Well, there’s a million reasons why not, and I think you can see that for yourself in this series. That being said, I think it’s rare. And maybe that’s just the line of work that I’m in, but it’s rare that everything gets wrapped up in a nice, pretty bow.
Tracy: It ends with closure in nine episodes.
Katie: Yes. Yes. Yeah. I we see a lot of happy stories with our clients, but I would say that they look more like you got a job in the field that you’ve been training for since you left. Like, Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. However, your abuser is hauling you back into court for a modification that’s really silly.
Tracy: Co-parent with this person.
Katie : Yeah, and they’re making your life really difficult. Or, they’re not paying child support, and you’re trying to figure out how to make that happen so that you can make ends meet for your child. So, there’s not usually closure like that. I think our clients get received in the different spaces that they’re trying to get help from in different ways, depending on how they present. Am I white? Am I a heterosexual female? As is Alex. Or am I trans? Am I Black or Latina? Do I speak English? I think all of those elements make our survivors that we work with particularly vulnerable, and it makes it particularly difficult for them to access some of the different services that we see Alex access in her journey. So, I think there’s definite realness here, but I would say some of it is just made more palatable.
Tracy: Yeah, there’s like we talked about this, there’s a lot of privilege in the show, right? She has a family that again, despite their mental health issues, she has a family where oftentimes there is no support system and she is, you know, provided a lawyer at some point. Well two lawyers, right? And she’s provided this lawyer who’s a friend, who’s a very expensive lawyer, and she gets that privilege, too. But I think one of the things that there’s a lot of criticism about the show that, well, why couldn’t they have just wrapped this into two hours, a two hour movie? And I really disagree with that. I think, like you said, Katy, seeing the the dryness of her sitting in the social services chair and them saying, “Well, you need to pay stubs,” and that happens maybe three times throughout the series and you think, “Well, why do they need to show this three times?” Because that’s what happens, right? Like, she had to go three times and say, “I don’t have pay stubs,” and all she’s doing is trying to have a job. So, I think that they did it correctly by showing the realness and the dryness of each one of those steps. Absolutely.
Kari: Yeah, the discomfort of just waiting.
Tracy: Yes. And I think the other thing too, that really was interesting, is how she always knew exactly how much money she had. And it shows on the screen five dollars and thirty two cents. And she has to put some gas in to get to her job. And her transportation issues were really interesting in the show as well.
Katie: Yeah. I hope it was clear to everybody, aside from me, just how much she’s keeping track of. Like in addition to the running tally that she has of her finances in her head, she knows right where the shelter is so that she can go whenever she needs it. I think she goes and leaves like two times during the series. She goes to court a couple of times and she is taking calls from her employer. There’s just a lot happening all the time, and I think that’s pretty accurate. You know, the amount of calls and coordinating you have to do to get all the things that you need is astounding. And sometimes it’s crushing. You know, it just makes it really hard to be functional every day, knowing how much you have to do to get yourself set up apart from your abuser, right?
Tracy: And also taking care of a small person.
Kari: Yeah, for most of the show, she is a very strong, a very strong person. She’s very determined in in doing what she needs to do. There’s a point in the series where she has sort of a mental break. I don’t know what episode. I guess where she just can’t do it anymore, and she just kind of zones out for a little while. But I’m glad they covered that too, because it’s just the M.O. for her own mental health. She deals with a lot of mental health around her that’s not stable, but her own is also challenged because of how hard this process is.
Tracy: I just know, you know, there was a point, I think in the beginning where I was like, “Oh, this is a little slow.” Like, am I going to keep watching this, you know? And then it got to the core part, maybe in the second or third episode where they were married? Where her co-parent gets an attorney and she clearly, you know, isn’t going to have an attorney in court. And I thought, “Oh, I know exactly how this is going to go, you know?” And he won because he had the attorney in court. And I think that’s where, you know, Carrie, you talk about how strong she was. She went to court like, “Oh, I can do this. This is no big deal and I can talk my way through it.” And there was nothing she did wrong. She did everything even better than she could have, you know? She waited to speak. She didn’t do all of the things that sometimes we see pros say people do trying to help themselves. But she’s so lost, right? Because he had the lawyer and she didn’t. And I think that was really eye opening for me as a custody attorney is, well, that’s exactly what happens. And we know that. So, this series really highlighted how unfair the system is, and the judge in that case had no idea what to believe. And so they just decided, “Oh, okay, well, this person with the lawyers is who I’m going to believe.”
Kari: Yeah, and thanks to the work of organizations like the Women’s Center for Advancement, I think what’s important is that we need to break the cycle. Because in the show, they cover a lot of the familial history of abuse, too. With her father and the enablement of it. I forgot her husband’s name, that husband, her abuser? His parents are very enabling of his behavior and his alcoholism. So it just highlights the importance of the work that the WCA is doing to break these patterns for people because it will just continue and continue and continue.
Tracy: I think the alcoholism too, that’s really wrought in the show is also something that hits home with the work that we do here. That, you know, we’ll have a client come to us and say, Well, there’s emotional physical abuse and alcoholism in in the relationship, and maybe they’re married. Maybe they’re not, but they’re going to have a custody action. And those are the cases that I know are the hardest to prove when really we have all this evidence, you know, that we want to show to the judge. We’ve gone to court with literal audio recordings of, you know, domestic violence situations where we think, OK, this is going to be easy. We hit play and we do that. And the judge hears these audio recordings of severe inaction, domestic violence, things happening. And then, you know, judges say, “Oh, well, they’re not a bad parent, though, so we’re going to do 50/50 custody.” And it’s just heart wrenching. And then alcoholism, you know, is something that judges think, okay, well, but they haven’t gotten charged with a crime. So, maybe what’s wrong with some beers in the basement at home? And we often will tell our clients document as much as you can, like take a picture of the trash can every night and there’s 10 beers in there every night, and it’s it becomes this really difficult thing when we go to court.
Katie: Absolutely, I think you have to show proximity like, well, how long ago did that happen, actually? Like, maybe it’s not that bad and you know, you hear judges and opposing counsel say, “Well, it’s just the two parties, it’s the parents. It has nothing to do with the kids. So, that shouldn’t impact custody. What we decide with custody.” And I think anybody, any of us working in this field, know that’s not the case. So, you have to think of the smallest, what seems to be the smallest detail with regard to the court, but it’s huge in the lives of our clients. So where the custody exchanges happen, are they at the abuser’s house or where the abuser is residing with family around who heckle our client? Or can we make it at a police station where there’s surveillance? I just think there’s so many things that you think of to help your client stay safe, but that comes with experience and knowledge. And the court is just not going to offer that right, if you don’t have the wherewithal to bring it up, right?
Kari: So throughout the show, part of what I think, what a lot of discussion came out of it is people ask the question, “Was he really abusive?Because he didn’t hit her or he was a nice guy for a good part of the time, and he seemed to love his daughter. Was he really abusive?” So in your work, how hard is it to prove abuse?
Katie: Well, I think particularly the kind of abuse they portray. I think you have to get really creative. I think you hear him say things, and maybe so many of us are kind of used to hearing this, to where it doesn’t trigger alarm bells in your head. But when he tells her, “You have nothing, you’re a maid, you have no training. How do you think you’re going to leave? How do you think the court is going to see that in terms of awarding custody of our daughter?” Like, your mom’s a screw up, your dad is nowhere. How do you expect the court to view that? Like, that’s all abusive, right? It’s power and control classic. How do you characterize that to the court? See it? You can’t. So, you have to use how the trashcan looks, you have to take pictures of it. I think he does hit a wall. Yeah, I think there’s like a big hole in one of the walls in there.
Tracy: Judges don’t care about holes in the wall, either, in my experience.
Katie: It depends, I suppose, when it happens or how. But yeah.
Tracy: Literally getting a hole into a wall takes a lot of effort, and we have submitted pictures of holes in the walls and judges don’t care. Gosh, it’s fascinating.
Kari: You should bring a piece of drywall and have challenged them to punch a hole. Yeah, yeah. See how hard this sucked?
Katie: So I think it is. I mean, I think in the previous episode we talked about, you know, the definitions of domestic violence. And I think the moral of the story is that the court has such a a narrow sphere within which you can work to kind of talk about domestic violence and how it impacts the particular action for which you’re appearing in front of the court. So you have to be able to have these larger conversations with your client, like if this doesn’t work, we have to safety plan for what will happen next because it may not. Protection orders are never slam dunks. What we’re asking for in court is just a request regarding custody, and the court can either approve it or not. And we’re going to give our best go at this, but we have to prepare for everything.
Tracy: So, I think when anyone filed for a protection order, it’s obviously very serious, right? People aren’t just wanting protection orders because it’s a fun thing to have. Going to the courthouse, filling out the paperwork, swearing and notarizing your signature and then waiting an agonizing amount of time, whether it’s hours or a day or two, for a judge to decide whether they’re going to grant it or set it for a hearing. And then if you have a hearing on it and it’s denied, how awful is the domestic violence situation going to be now? Right?
Katie: Right. Absolutely. Any protection orders are a clear sign to your abuser that I am leaving. I am done with this and we know, if you’re in the field you know, that any kind of concrete signal you make that you’re no longer in the abuser’s control is when your safety risk goes way high. So, the the danger of death even is imminent in those kind of situations. We’re constantly safety planning, and rewriting the safety plan, because we have to plan for those instances when, you know, the court doesn’t see it the same way as you do, right? What shelter, and shelters are always full, but like what shelters are in the area that we can get you to? Where can we put you up for a night? Do you have a friend? Do you have family? And you know, Alex? It’s hard to call her privileged. Totally. You know, I think she has some real vulnerabilities in her life, but the fact that she has family, I mean, they may be unstable, but she has family to fall back on is a huge piece of why she ends up succeeding and getting to college like she originally planned. A lot of our clients don’t have that because they’ve relocated. Maybe they’re not even in the same country as their family. They just don’t have support systems. That’s all part of abuse too, is isolating the victim from anybody who could help them leave a situation like that.
Tracy: Oh yeah. I think in the show too, we would be remiss not to talk about her friend that she meets at the shelter and that little side story that happens in the series. She meets this woman who becomes like her mentor and and her best friend, basically at the shelter, and she has a child as well. And at some point, Alex leaves the shelter, and I don’t recall she goes back to her. Is that when she goes back? Maybe. And then she comes back to the shelter, asking where her friend is, and the director of the shelter says she left. Then she sees her on the street, and she pretends that she doesn’t even know her. And they had such a connection at the shelter. And it’s towards the end of the series. So, you’re left wondering what’s happening with her? Yeah, and we all know, right, that just like the the way they portrayed her character as being so different from how she was in the shelter. She was bubbly and she had excitement in her life for what her future looks like.
Katie: But she, you know, notably speaks of a son who’s not with her. You know, that’s the most infuriating question for me is not only why did you not leave sooner, but why do you go back? And I would love more follow up on that character just because she could have gone back for a multitude of reasons. If you’re an animal lover and we talked about that in the first episode, too, I mean, so many survivors go back because they’re worried about their pets, and abusers do use pets as a means of control as well. So, you know, finances are where it’s really hard to make it on your own. She stayed employed at that terrible agency for a long time. But, you know, finances can be more stable back with your abuser, for your child. We’ve seen lots of clients feel like, “I’m too worried to leave my child with him for half the time, so I’m just going to go back so I can keep an eye on things and I’ll leave when the child is older and moved out of the house, and I’ll just put up with this until then.” So, I think that particular client, who we only see in a few episodes or particular client survivor. Yeah. Her story is, you know, very real. It takes probably an average of six or seven times for a survivor to leave. Yeah. For the last time.
Tracy: And I wonder if she’s a character in the book, too, maybe. Have you read the book, Katie? I’ve read half.
Katie: I would say half the book, and I don’t recall. I don’t recall a character like that. It’s a lot more about her financially trying to make ends meet through all these hurdles. But yeah, I thought it was a good choice. I’m just interested to know what happens to her.
Kari: So, why don’t you tell us some success stories. Like, what does a success story look like for the WCA?
Katie: Success is really all about independence from this life of violence or from your abuser. Success is empowerment, and it can look like standing up for yourself in court and testifying. Those are huge moments for me. I mean, protection order proceedings are extremely difficult and emotional. It’s often the first time a survivor is seeing their abuser after a really violent exchange. But like that survivor answering questions in court in front of their abuser and looking him or her right in the eye is huge. That’s a huge show of, “I’m not putting up with this anymore.” But it can be all the way down the line. I just heard from a client who I helped with divorce and custody. I want to say two years ago, and she nominated the WCA for an award for all the work that they do. But she particularly reached out to me and said, “You know, things are hard, but it’s not nearly as hard as what it could have been had I still been in this relationship. And I just really appreciate that you believed me.” So, we don’t always know if they’re doing well, you know, hopefully we’re not hearing from them, usually if they’re doing well. But those times that you do, it’s just things that would look little to somebody who didn’t know all that it took to get to this point. But I know, and just the fact that somebody believed her and walked alongside her, through a really tough time in her life, is what success looks like.
Kari: So that’s got to be so, so amazing to witness.
Tracy: Especially when you really know you’ve heard the story from her directly. And you know, as lawyers, we get, I think, pretty either numb to it or we can internalize it so much that we can really feel it, I think. And I think that this type of work can be really difficult for attorneys to continue in the work and for advocates to do it, because it can be so traumatic. What’s it called, the secondary?
Katie: Vicarious trauma or secondary trauma? Yeah, yeah.
Tracy: Yeah. Well, we are so grateful for the WCA in our community and for you being on our podcast. Because literally, Carrie and I talked about the show and we were like, we got to talk about this and having you here is pretty great. So, remind us again of how people can help the WCA, and we’ll put links to this in our show notes.
Katie: Yeah, I really appreciate being able to talk about this topic and especially, you know that we have this series, this amazing series to kind of ground our discussion. It has been really fun, but the way to help the WCA are many. You can go to our website. We have a donate button at the top of the page. I think it’s pretty easy to find. So that’s a really quick, simple way to make a difference. It doesn’t actually take much in the terms of an amount of money to make a difference in somebody’s life. We also accept donations of items right now. It is January. It’s frigid cold and we cannot keep coats, hats, mittens, scarves in our in our building for very long because we’re just handing them out to our clients left and right. So if you have any of those that you don’t use any more or your family members have grown out of, we will take them. We also when clients come into our building and in crisis, they often have very little money or very little of their personal effects. So, if you are able to donate personal hygiene items, toothpaste, toothbrush, tampons, shampoo, conditioner, diapers, all of those items are things that we absolutely appreciate in terms of donations. And if you’re an attorney, I would say we’re always willing to put you to work. Yeah, we offer walk-in legal consultations on a monthly basis, and we use law students to help us with that event. We offer what we call workshops, but they’re kind of like legal clinics twice a month where we help people, survivors fill out self-help forms. And then if you would just want to take a case pro bono, that’s the biggest ask of them all. But we really appreciate it. We have so many more survivors who need civil legal help than we have attorneys to provide it. So, if that’s something that would interest you, please contact me directly.
Kari: Yeah, great. And at the very least, if you haven’t watched the show, watch Maid on Netflix just to increase your awareness.
Tracy: Yeah, it’s all right. Well, thank you both for being here today. Thank you. Thank you. See you next time. Thank you for listening to the Lady Lawyer League.
Outro: Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would like to learn more about our firm Hightower Reff Law, please visit our website at HRlawomaha.com.
Tracy: We’ll see you next week!
Ever wonder what happens to your stuff after you die? Well, it turns out that the court has a say. Enter Tosha Heavican: Death Esquire – she’s here to give us an inside look at Probate and Estate Law. In this episode, we’ll be discussing all things related to probating an estate. From understanding how the process works to figuring out who gets what when all is said and done. So listen up – Tosha is about to drop some knowledge! Let’s get started!
What happens after a divorce? What are the different judgments and how do they impact you? In this episode Susan and Tracy cover all of those post decree tasks you need to know when your divorce is final. Once the divorce is final, there are a few things you need to think about. You’ll want to make sure that all the necessary judgments have been issued and that you understand them. Property division, alimony (if applicable), child support/custody—these are all important pieces for your post-divorce life.