Spring is here again, and Maine has finally started to thaw! It is the season of growth, and a welcomed change, but here at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, we are well suited to growth and change. Did you know that PTLA has been involved in Maine’s Protection from Abuse (PFA) Statue since its inception in the 1970’s? In fact, PTLA attorneys worked to make the argument to expand the reach of who qualifies for such a protection. As the PFA statute initially stood, an individual was eligible for a PFA only if a divorce proceeding was occurring in tandem. Pine Tree took part in arguing that the circumstances warranting the protections a PFA ensures far exceed the narrow scope of divorce.  

Over the last several years, Pine Tree has continued its involvement in many changes to the PFA statute, often in response to common challenges that our clients face. For example, several years ago PTLA noticed a trend of non-consensual pornography being used to control or blackmail our clients with the rise of the use of smartphones with cameras. Through Pine Tree’s work with the Abuse Commission and partnership with MCEDV and MECASA, we successfully advocated for this behavior to become part of the protection order statute, allowing plaintiffs to seek relief including taking down the images and monetary damages.  

However, with the changes to the protection order statute over time, it was increasingly difficult to read and understand the law unless you were very familiar with the statute and the case law that had developed around it. When new attorneys joined the Family Law and Victim Rights Unit, we would have them read the statute, but also a list of cases that explained the law around many common issues that would come up in court. New judges often were not familiar with the case law. It was challenging for parties who were not represented to understand the law. Attorneys often saw that survivors of sexual assault and stalking were told to file Protection from Harassment cases even though they had been eligible to file Protection from Abuse cases since 2007.  

Senator Donna Bailey suggested that it was time to re-write the entire statute to address these concerns. She sponsored a bill that clarified and re-codified the Protection from Abuse statute. Pine Tree attorneys Lucia Hunt and Melissa Martin worked with MCEDV Policy Director (and former PTLA attorney) Andrea Mancuso to re-work the statute, making changes that clarify who is eligible to seek relief, re-organizing the sections so that similar sections are located near each other, and breaking dense paragraphs into easy-to-read lists.  

MECASA is recognizing Melissa, Lucia, and Andrea with their 2022 “make a difference” award for this work in April!
Thanks to the significant growth of the Family Law and Victim Rights unit, Pine Tree Legal Assistance is better positioned to serve the most vulnerable Mainers among us, as illustrated by our attorneys' involvement in the PFA statute. Our dedicated staff is faced with cases pertaining to protection from abuse, to divorce and parental rights & responsibilities, just to name a few. 

Pine Tree staff believe in utilizing an integrative approach, utilizing holistic services to better support our clients in their journey to justice. Our staff have assisted clients in keeping their in-home nurse/personal care assistants, with preparation of wills for clients with children when the other parent has been denied contact by the courts due to severe abuse and provided support to child sexual assault survivors wishing to legally change their names, to name a few. 

Recently our staff helped a client collect on her spousal support and division of property (all monetary compensation in lieu of material objects at her request), by filing a Motion for Contempt and getting the Court to issue an order permitting direct withholdings from the ex-husband's Worker's Compensation payments for not only spousal support, but also for the monetary payments in lieu of property division when ex-husband failed to comply with the Divorce Judgment. Our client was awarded $3,515.00 per month until his obligations are paid. This was a high conflict case where Pine Tree’s client reported serious sexual abuse. The money is now being collected by DHHS and deposited into the client's bank account. 
In the Community
At Pine Tree Legal Assistance, we know we must collaborate with organizations whose missions are interconnected with ours and support them to ensure they are also strong. This month, we are spotlighting our good friends at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA).  
MECASA’s mission is to end sexual violence and to support high quality sexual violence prevention and response within Maine communities. ​MECASA’s work spans a range of programming and partnerships to bring the voices of Maine’s sexual assault support centers and the victims/survivors they serve to statewide and national sexual violence prevention and response efforts. 
Check out MECASA’s website and learn more about their work and how you can support them.  

Looking Ahead
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Copyright © 2021, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, All rights reserved.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance is a non-profit, is a 501(c)(3) organization incorporated on June 14, 1966. Our tax ID number is 01-02 79387. Pine Tree Legal Assistance is funded in part by the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”). As a condition of the funding received from LSC, Pine Tree Legal Assistance is restricted in certain activities in all of its legal work, including work supported by other funding sources. Pine Tree Legal Assistance may not expend any funds for any activity prohibited by the Legal Services Corporation Act, 42 U.S.C §2996 et. seq. or by Public Law 104-134. Public Law 104—234 §504(d) required that notice of these restrictions be given to all funders or programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation. For a copy of these laws or any further information, please contact: Executive Director, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, PO Box 547, Portland, Maine 04112; Tel. 207-774-4753.