Athena’s Guide to Civil Legal Aid in Washington

“Civil law” refers to all kinds of legal action that are not criminal law. Divorces, adoptions, custody and child support cases, evictions, foreclosures, medical injury or car accident lawsuits (“torts”), and claims of discrimination are all “civil law”. As a general rule, the state does not provide an attorney for you in civil cases, even if you’re low-income or no-income (unlike criminal law where you would get a Public Defender if you couldn’t afford an attorney).

Many of us in the Pagan community encounter civil law issues that make it more of a challenge to find the help we need.  Many of us live in non-traditional families which present unusual issues in family law. Sometimes we may be subject to discrimination at work or in housing because of our religious beliefs, or because of other people’s fears and misconceptions about Paganism. The legal system is daunting to begin with, and if you’re Pagan, it can be that much scarier to explain your complex legal situation to a stranger, and to advocate for yourself.

Athena’s Guide can help you figure out where to turn if you have civil legal issues in the state of Washington.

In Washington State, there is a broad network of civil legal aid programs serving every county.  Some of these services and resources are solely for low-income people, but others can be used by anyone in Washington.  Some of these programs have a team of staff attorneys who represent low-income people at little or no cost in civil cases.  Others are volunteer legal programs, usually advice-only legal clinics, or limited representation by an attorney providing services “pro bono” (for free). There are programs run by the courts, non-legal advocacy groups, and self-help web sites to assist people who cannot afford an attorney, or who prefer to handle their legal issues on their own. Even if you decide to hire an attorney, many of these resources can help you figure out whether you need an attorney, how to decide which attorney to hire, and how to make the most of your time with your attorney.

Washington also has a broad array of state, county, and municipal government agencies that help people with civil legal issues, including certain divisions of the Office of the Attorney General, and the Human Rights Commission. In some areas of law there are also federal agencies that help people with civil legal issues.

This guide focuses on the three areas of law where most civil legal issues in the Pagan community arise: family law, landlord-tenant law, and discrimination law (which often intersects with some of the other areas of law listed).

However, many of the resources listed are good places to turn for other areas of civil law, and there are many tips provided in this guide that apply to any legal situation.

Every legal aid organization is understaffed and overworked.  The people who work and volunteer at legal aid agencies are knowledgeable and dedicated, but demand for civil legal aid is always greater than the resources available. To get the most out of your time dealing with legal aid agencies, remember these tips: Be proactive!  Be patient! Be persistent! Be polite!  That’s the first step in advocating for yourself and getting the help you need.