Levelling the playing field

LAM's new Family Law Team, led by Araceli Ontiveros-Venegas and Laurie Joyce, brings justice to a custody case.
Araceli Ontiveros-Venegas and Laurie Joyce

Among the hundreds of cases that pass through the offices of Legal Aid of Marin each year, often the most complex deal in the emotional area of family law. Divorce, custody battles, restraining orders—these issues can absolutely overwhelm a client with a feeling of helplessness and despair. To better serve the community, LAM recently formed a new Family Law Team led by staff attorneys Laurie Joyce and Araceli Ontiveros-Venegas. The two attorneys recently collaborated on a case that proved to be a victory for their client and for our community.

THE CASE: A San Rafael father was suddenly served with a divorce petition by his wife of many years, who without warning, took the couple’s two children and left the county. Unable to read or write and unsure of his rights, the apprehensive father—who was determined to keep his children in his life—came to the LAM offices looking for help.

THE STAFF: Ontiveros-Venegas and Joyce reviewed the father’s documents and informed him that the wife intended to win full legal and physical custody of the couple’s children. The father explained that he was very much involved in his children’s lives but did not know how to articulate this in a legal setting. The two LAM attorneys helped him prepare a declaration and response. They gathered letters of support from the children’s elementary school teachers effusively stating that the father was very much involved in school and community activities. The Family Law Team helped prepare the father for mediation and informed him of all of his legal options and basic rights.

THE OUTCOME: The father was thrilled to learn that LAM was able to help him obtain joint custody of his children and felt empowered that he was able to tell his side of the story effectively to the mediator and family court judge. Thanks to the dedicated Family Law Team of Ontiveros-Venegas and Joyce, the entire legal process with regard to custody took less than one month.

ABOVE AND BEYOND: “I was moved by how genuinely humble and happy he was that LAM was able to make a difference for him and his family,” said Ontiveros-Venegas, who grew up in Marin and is thrilled to give back to her community. Joyce, also a Marin resident, feels the same way. “The truth is that if there wasn’t a Legal Aid of Marin, our clients wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”

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