Getting Legal Help to Save a Family
For Gina Vucci, it started gradually, without a name. It wasn’t something that happened to soccer moms like her. She would see women in similar situations portrayed on television shows, but didn’t see reflections of herself. She wasn’t sure anyone would even believe her if she shared her story, or that her life would ever be any different.
Even after seeking legal help, Vucci decided she “still wasn’t ready” and admits getting used to an “insidious and constant” climate of tension in her home.
But after another four years, when she was seriously assaulted by her husband, Vucci went for a second time to the Family & Children’s Law Center. With their help, she could finally put a name to it: domestic violence.
That incident was a turning point, says Vucci. “I realized then that I didn’t want my kids to see me in that marriage. I had to get out for good.
“The attorneys at the center were incredibly supportive,” she adds. They helped get a restraining order, represented her in getting custody of her three children and putting visitation arrangements in place, and are still involved in helping with divorce proceedings.
“I felt heard, listened to, and taken seriously,” she says. “And the attorneys made it very clear that what I was going through was abuse and coercive control. They told me I wasn’t safe, and that I had to keep going. I needed that input as much as the legal counsel I got.”
Even with therapy, until that point Vucci says that “I knew what my husband was doing was wrong, but I couldn’t make the break. I was actually getting acclimated to living in that type of tension.”
Vucci moved out with her children six weeks after the event that led her to FACLC the second time—a period she describes as “the worst six weeks of my life.” Her family ended up moving five times in seven months, staying with friends and, when her husband wasn’t there, in her former home. “It was unbelievable hell,” she says.
Another turning point for Vucci was the first time she went to court with attorneys from FACLC. “I felt totally safe, knowing they’d take care of me. In fact, they later told me that this was one of the worst cases they had ever brought before the court. They took our whole family under their wing.”
Even after that, things didn’t always go well. After the court handed down custody and visitation orders, Vucci says her husband “went ballistic,” found out where she lived, and threatened her. She almost moved into a shelter, but instead took her children out of town for several weeks.
Now in their own home, Vucci says things are “slowly beginning to come back.” “We’re starting to rebuild. We’re starting new family traditions and making new lives together.
“We also talk as a family about what happened. We all had the common experience of being in that home. But we also have the common experience of recovery. My life was decimated and obliterated, but now things are coming back. It’s a happy home.”
Vucci says she wants to tell her story as a way to reach out to other women in Marin who may be going through what she did. “If I had known there was someone like me to talk to, maybe I could have identified earlier what was happening. If I could help another person get out safely and protect their kids, why not do that?”
The Marin Community Foundation is helping others receive the kind of legal support Vucci received through grants being made under its Equity in Legal Protection Community Grant area. MCF is supporting projects that help low-income residents receive affordable, quality legal and advocacy services to gain or maintain economic security, preserve safe housing, prevent domestic violence, and maintain other basic needs.
“I got a second shot at life,” says Vucci. “I’m a fighter and a survivor, but there’s no way I could have done it without the support and guidance I got.”