The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland provides free legal advice and representation to low-income people for civil matters only  in  five counties in northeast Ohio: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Lorain.

To get help from Legal Aid you can:

  • Browse topics to the left to learn more about legal issues
  • Call the Legal Aid Intake Line at: 888-817-3777 or 216-687-1900
  • Come to a Brief Advice and Referral Clinic near you

Legal Aid does not handle criminal cases or traffic violations.   To get help in a matter Legal Aid does not handle, click here for a list of other agencies.

Legal Aid  will not deny services on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, age, religion, political affiliation or belief, or disability.

There are eligibility guidelines — click on the FAQ below “Who does Legal Aid help? Am I eligible?” to learn more.


Who does Legal Aid help? Am I eligible? Close

Legal Aid helps low-income people.   People with income less than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible and  may qualify for assistance. Sometimes people with less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines can qualify.

Family size: Annual Income (125%) Annual Income (200%)
1 $14,713 $23,540
2 $19,913 $31,860
3 $25,113 $40,180
4 $30,313 $48,500
5 $35,513 $56,820
6 $40,713 $65,140
7 $45,913 $73,460
Each additional person add: $5,200 $8,320

Because of our limited staff , everyone is not able to receive help from Legal Aid.    Contact us to see if your case is one we can handle.

Do the financial guidelines apply for seniors? Close

No. Legal Aid helps seniors who have the greatest need, even if they are above these guidelines.

Does Legal Aid help older adults? Close


Legal Aid represents seniors (60 and over) in all the areas of law we handle, with an emphasis on   homeownership preservation, elder abuse (physical or financial), Medicaid and Medicare   issues, and other public benefits.   There are no financial limitations on eligibility, although we concentrate on helping people who cannot afford to pay for legal representation.

Additionally, Legal Aid provides advice and legal assistance for persons who need help with legal matters such as wills and advanced directives.

What happens when I contact Legal Aid for help? Close

We may ask you to send copies of your relevant paperwork.
If you qualify for our services and we have the resources to assist you, we will either:

  • give you advice or educational information to help you with the next steps in the legal process;
  • refer you to a volunteer attorney; or
  • represent you in your legal matter.

You can also receive legal assistance through community legal education and brief advice and referral clinics that Legal Aid hosts throughout Northeast Ohio. Check for dates and locations.

What areas of law are outside of Legal Aid’s practice? Close

Legal Aid does NOT handle criminal or traffic cases, cases seeking an award of damages, small claims complaints or workers’ compensation claims.

What is the Client Complaint Procedure? Close

  • Legal Aid is committed to providing high-quality legal services and holds itself accountable to those we seek to serve.
  • Any person who feels they were unfairly denied legal assistance or who is unhappy with the assistance provided by Legal Aid may complain by submitting a grievance.
  • You may make a complaint, either orally or in writing, to a Managing Attorney or to the Deputy Director for Advocacy.
  • You may send a written complaint by email to
  • Or, use this link for a copy of the Grievance Form and send a completed form to the Managing Attorney for the practice group assisting you or to the Deputy Director at 1223 West Sixth Street, Cleveland OH   44113.
  • If you want to complain orally, you may call the Deputy Director at 216-861-5329.   The Deputy Director will investigate your complaint and will let you know his decision.

When I call Legal Aid, the phone line is busy – how can I get help? Close

Legal Aid’s phone lines can get overloaded at certain times of the day – and it can be difficult to get through on the phone.   Your call is important, so you are encouraged to keep trying.

The phones are especially busy on Mondays and Fridays and first thing in the morning.   Don’t wait until the last minute to call about an emergency!

In addition to calling Legal Aid for help, you can visit a free brief advice clinic.   Click here for a calendar of upcoming clinics in your area.

Is Legal Aid a government agency? Close


The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is a nonprofit organization governed by a board of directors.   Legal Aid is recognized as a 501(c)(3) by the IRS and registered as a charity in the State of Ohio.

Does everyone have a “right” to an attorney at Legal Aid? Close


Everyone is not entitled to representation.   The US Constitution only provides for a right to an attorney in criminal cases.   Legal Aid handles only civil matters.   Before a case is accepted the case must be determined to have legal merit and meet  Legal Aid  priorities. Thousands of people each year are only given advice, or referred to another agency, or informed that their legal problem does not fall within Legal Aid priorities.

What kind of eligibility information is needed for Legal Aid representation? Close

Those applying for Legal Aid’s help are asked about income, property owned, zip code, assets, family size, age, race, citizenship or immigration status.

I plan to represent myself in court, what are some guidelines? Close

Many people go to court without a lawyer, also called appearing “pro se.”  It can be a scary process, but preparing for the court hearing and knowing what to expect can reduce stress and allow you to better present the facts and issues in your case.  If you are representing yourself in court, the following steps will help you prepare.

1)      Know where your courtroom is located.  Once you receive your court date, take a trip and find your courtroom.  This will help you plan travel time, parking or bus routes, plus give you an idea of the layout of the building so that you can easily find your way to court on the day of your hearing.  Always make sure to leave plenty of travel time for unexpected issues.  If you are not in your courtroom at the time your case is called it can be dismissed or move forward without you.

2)      Present yourself as a business person at your hearing.  Although you are not a lawyer, you are representing yourself and you want to look and act the part.  You do not need to buy new clothing, but make sure to dress professionally. Also, make sure all devices, such as cell phones, are turned off.  Court officials may take these items if they ring during a hearing.  In addition, you should only bring into the courtroom people needed for your case.  Others can distract you during the hearing and may cause disruption.  You should address the judge as “Your Honor.”  Although you may disagree with the opposing party, do not interrupt or argue with anyone in court.  You will be given time to speak and present your case.

3)      Prepare the evidence you will use in your case.  Not all evidence is allowed to be used to support your case.  At the hearing, the judge or magistrate may tell you that you cannot present certain evidence.  Don’t get frustrated if you are told this and continue moving forward with your case.  For any papers you plan to use as evidence, make sure to have copies for you, the opposing party and the court.  The court and the opposing party will keep their copies.  You should also talk with your potential witnesses to prepare them and let them know they may have to answer questions from the opposing party or attorney and the judge.  Remind your witnesses to dress appropriately and turn off all devices before entering the courtroom.

Following these steps can help you feel prepared, avoid unexpected surprises the day of your hearing, and present your case clearly to the court.

This article was written by Legal Aid supervising attorneys Lauren Gilbride and Kari White and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How does the U.S. legal system work? Close

The American legal system is based on federal laws, which cover the entire country, and state laws, which only cover a particular state. Federal and state systems handle both civil and criminal cases.  Federal courts handle civil issues like bankruptcy, while state courts handle civil issues like evictions and divorce.

A civil case typically starts when one person, the plaintiff, claims that another person, the defendant, harmed the plaintiff by doing something against the law or by not doing something they were legally required to do.  Criminal cases begin when a person is accused of a crime, or “indicted.” Unlike in civil cases, the government brings criminal cases through the county prosecutor’s office.  The victim is not a party to the case.

There are many kinds of state courts, including municipal courts and common pleas courts, where cases usually start. Municipal courts hear less serious criminal cases and civil claims for less than $15,000. Common Pleas courts primarily hear felonies and civil cases worth more than $15,000.  If a party loses at trial, she can take her case to the Court of Appeals. The loser on appeal can ask the Ohio Supreme Court to hear the case.   All courts can only hear cases within their jurisdiction, which is generally the geographic area where the court is located (e.g. Cleveland Municipal Court hears cases that occur in Cleveland.)

The Clerk of Courts is the person who keeps the records for the court.  The Clerk receives documents for filing and collects court fees.  People who have to go to court and cannot afford to pay filing fees can often file a “poverty affidavit.”  A “poverty affidavit” is a sworn statement that you have a low income and cannot afford the fees. Once you file the affidavit and a judge approves it, your filing fees will be reduced or waived in that case.  See for more information. 

Some problems must be addressed through an administrative proceeding before going to court.  Benefits provided by the state, such as Unemployment Compensation, food stamps, and Medicaid, are part of the administrative law system. When an agency like the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services makes a negative decision about a person’s benefits, the person must be notified and given an opportunity to request a hearing by a certain deadline.  At the hearing, a person is allowed to bring an attorney or other representative to help explain why the agency’s decision was wrong.  After all available administrative proceedings have been used unsuccessfully, a person can take their issue to court.

This article was written by Legal Aid Summer Associate Jacob Whiten and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some common legal terms I should know? Close

Answer: A document filed by the defendant with the court responding to the plaintiff’s complaint.[1]

Civil Action: A lawsuit filed with a court to demand a legal solution to a private dispute.[2]

Complaint: The first document filed by the plaintiff in a case. It describes what the plaintiff claims the defendant did wrong that caused the plaintiff some harm.

Court Docket: An official court record of what has happened in a legal case.  The docket is a public record and can often be viewed online from the court’s website.[3]

Default Judgment: A judgment granted by the court for failure to file a pleading by a specific deadline or a failure to appear in court when required.[4]

Defendant: The person being sued in the lawsuit and who the plaintiff claims did something wrong.

Magistrate: A court official appointed by a judge with authority to administer and enforce the law in a case.[5]

Motion: A written request asking the court to take some form of action (for example, to dismiss a complaint).[6]

Plaintiff: The person or company who files the lawsuit with the court.

Pleadings: Written documents filed by the plaintiff or defendant that give information to the court about the dispute.[7]

Poverty Affidavit: A written, sworn statement that you have a low income and do not have enough money to pay court filing fees.[8]

Pro Se: A person who does not have an attorney representing them in their case and who appears in court by himself or herself.[9]

Summons: A court order requiring a person to appear or respond in writing to the complaint. Failure to appear in a civil case can result in a default judgment; failure to appear in a criminal case can result in being arrested.[10]

[1] at page 1.

[2] at page 3.

[3] at page 7.


[7] at page 18.


[9] “Pro Se.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group 22 Jul. 2014

This article was written by Legal Aid Paralegal Kristen Simpson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some tips for preparing for a housing case on my own? Close

What is Housing Court?  In Ohio, three courts have divisions that specialize in housing-related issues:  Cleveland, Toledo, and Franklin County.  These courts were created to allow judges to develop expertise in these areas of law and use a problem-solving approach to cases.  In other cities, the municipal court typically hears cases related to housing issues.

What types of cases are heard in Housing Court?  The courts hear civil and criminal cases related to real property.  The civil cases include landlord tenant matters, like evictions, rent deposits, and actions to compel repairs.  The criminal cases involve the failure to maintain property, and include building, housing, health, fire and zoning code violations.

What should you know about going to Housing Court on your own?

You are not required to have an attorney to appear in Housing Court (unless you are appearing on behalf of a company you own).  If you are in Court on a criminal case you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney.  Ask the Judge about your right to counsel when you appear for a criminal case.

  • Read your court papers carefully!  They will tell you when and where you are to appear, and whether you need to file anything in writing with the Court.
  • Look at the Court’s website.  Most websites post basic information, including local rules, and have a list of “frequently asked questions.”
  • Read the rules.  A court’s local rules tell you how individual courts handle cases.  Also, all parties must follow the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, whether they are represented by an attorney or not.
  • Evictions are summary proceedings.  This means that cases move quickly, and usually are heard and decided at the first hearing.  In Cleveland, if you are ordered to move, you may have as few as seven days to do so!  If you have special circumstances you would like the Court to consider, bring related paperwork to the hearing.
  • Consider mediation.  The Cleveland Housing Court now offers community mediation, in which court staff  meet with landlords and tenants in their neighborhoods to try and resolve problems and avoid future lawsuits.  For more information, please contact the Court at 216-664-4295.  In other communities, check with the municipal court to find out if mediation is available.
  • Questions?  Many organizations offer help to tenants.  Call 2-1-1 for resources in your community.  In Cleveland, see a Housing Specialist for information about court procedure and landlord-tenant law, Monday through Friday, from 8:00AM – 3:30PM, on the 13th floor of the Justice Center.  The Specialists are not attorneys, and cannot represent you, but can answer general questions.


This article was written by Cleveland Housing Court Senior Staff Attorney Jessica M. Weymouth and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some self-help tools I can use in my legal case? Close

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland recently created a self-help section on its website to begin providing tools to people who must go to court on their own without the help of an attorney.  The tools currently available can help people with the following:

Keep checking the Cleveland Legal Aid website for more self-help tools in the coming months.   If you have questions, attend one of Legal Aid’s free brief advice clinics.  You can find a list of upcoming clinic dates and locations here:

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

When do I have the right to an attorney? Close

Most people end up in court because they have to go, not because they want to be there; either they are being charged with a crime or they cannot resolve a dispute. When going to court, the assistance of a good lawyer makes a big difference.  Unfortunately, many people cannot afford to hire a lawyer.  In certain types of cases, you have the right to ask the court to “appoint” or assign a lawyer to represent you who you do not have to pay.


In criminal cases, you have a right to a lawyer whenever you might receive any amount of jail or prison time.  This generally means you have a right to a lawyer in every felony case and most misdemeanor cases, including traffic offenses, with the exception of minor misdemeanors.  You will not usually have a lawyer appointed until the first time you appear before the judge; but, you do not have to speak to police without a lawyer present.  You also generally have a right to a lawyer on your first appeal or at a hearing where you may be sent to jail for violating your probation or parole.


Both parents and children have the right to lawyers in juvenile court proceedings.  When a child is charged with committing a crime, he or she has a right to a lawyer.  When Children and Family Services removes or attempts to take custody of children, the parents have the right to a lawyer and the children may also have a right to their own lawyer (in addition to a guardian ad litem).


A parent who may go to jail for failing to pay child support has a right to counsel at the “show cause” or “contempt” hearing.   A parent is not, however, entitled to a lawyer when determining the amount of the child support payments.


In a few other circumstances—generally where your liberty is at stake, you also have a right to a lawyer.  If you are the subject of a guardianship, a civil commitment, or certain immigration proceedings (such as removal or asylum), you likely have a right to appointed counsel.

In most other civil cases, such as evictions or if you are sued by a creditor, you do not have a right to a court appointed lawyer.  You can hire a lawyer to represent you, or apply for free legal assistance through the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which may be able to help in some cases.  Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for assistance.



This article was written by Cuyahoga County Public Defender Cullen Sweeney and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What is mediation? Close

Mediation is a way for people to solve a legal problem without going to trial. Mediation usually occurs after a court case is filed. But, it can also happen before a court case begins.

At mediation, the parties have an opportunity to tell their side of the story. The mediator helps reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties. A settlement agreement states what each party will do in order to resolve their dispute.

Both parties must attend the mediation. Parties do not need a lawyer to go to mediation.  If an agreement is reached, the terms are put in writing and both parties sign it.  The parties are required to follow the agreement. When a court case is already filed, if any party violates the settlement agreement, the other party may request a hearing from the court.

When preparing for mediation, parties should collect and bring to the mediation any papers related to their dispute.  What each party says during mediation is confidential and cannot be used in court against each other. However, the mediator may be required to report issues of child abuse, elder abuse and the admission of a crime.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement at mediation, the case can be filed in court or if already filed, it will be sent back to the court for a trial where a judge or jury decides the outcome.

The Cleveland Housing Court offers mediation for the benefit of both landlords and tenants.  Most commonly in eviction cases, the parties agree on a date for the tenant to voluntarily move out.  Landlords benefit by knowing a tenant will move and tenants avoid having an eviction judgment.  To schedule mediation at Cleveland Housing Court, contact the mediation coordinator at 216-664-4926 or see a Housing Court Specialist on the 13th floor of the Justice Center.

Mediation can also be an option to resolve disagreements about child custody.  See Legal Aid’s brochure, Custody Mediation: What You Should Know In Advance, available at

Mediation is available to help resolve other types of problems through the Cleveland Mediation Center.  See for more information.


This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Abigail Staudt & Staff Attorney Hazel Remesch and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some tips for representing myself in a family matter? Close

It is always best to have an attorney help you in court, but if you find you must represent yourself, here are some suggestions.  Two courts handle family law issues, Juvenile and Domestic Relations.  Start by reading the court’s website.  Some courts post forms and instructions.    For example, the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division, has a complete packet with instructions and forms on how to file a divorce and your divorce decree.   See,  If you visit the clerk’s office, remember that clerks are not permitted to give legal advice.

If you seek a specific outcome, start by filing a complaint or motion.  The other party must receive a copy of the documents that you file with a court.  This is called “service.”  You can ask the clerk of courts to “serve” the other party by completing a “service instruction” form.  You will need a complete address for the other party.  Failure to provide an accurate address for the other party will postpone your hearing.  The clerk will send you notice of the date, time, and location for your hearing.  Remember to notify the scheduler of any changes to your address or phone number.  Mark your calendar for deadlines and hearings in your case.

The court expects you to be ready for your hearing.  Keep your papers organized with paper clips or folders.  Bring to court whatever proof you have that supports your case.   For example, to prove your income for child support, you should have recent paystubs, w-2s and tax returns.  Include three (3) copies of all documents that you plan to present to the court:  one copy for the judge, another for the other party, and the third copy for yourself.   Also, have copies of any documents that were filed by you and the other side.  You can refer back to these papers as necessary.  Invite witnesses that can help you prove your case.  The court will expect you to present testimony by asking questions during the hearing.   Make sure you know what your witnesses will say when deciding who should testify.

When a case concerns children, courts will not permit your children to come into the court room, so it will be important to plan for child care ahead of time.

When it is time to present your case, stand and follow the directions of the judge or magistrate.  Make sure to dress appropriately.  Explain what you would like the court to do for you and your family.  Most importantly, point out why this action is needed and how it will serve you or the best interest of your children.


This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorneys Davida Dodson and Tonya Whitsett and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know for dealing with administrative agencies? Close

Many different administrative agencies are responsible for important parts of our life, such as income, health insurance, and housing.  But dealing with the agencies that handle these benefits can be very difficult.  The following information will help when trying to solve a problem with an administrative agency.

Some common administrative agencies are the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, public housing authorities, and the Office of Child Support Services.  Even though each agency has its own rules, there are some common policies.  All administrative agencies:

  • Must give written notice when benefits or services are denied, reduced or terminated and tell you the reason for that decision;
  • The notice must tell you how to “appeal” or challenge the decision if you disagree with it;
  • The notice must tell you how much time you have to request an appeal, and whether or not your benefits will continue while you appeal;
  • You have a right to appoint an authorized representative to deal with the administrative agency for you, and each agency usually has a form to fill out if you want to do so;
  • Administrative agencies all have complaint or grievance procedures you can use if you have a problem with the agency, and the procedure for each agency should be available online or at the office;
  • Most final decisions of administrative agencies can be appealed to court but only AFTER you follow the agency process first.

When dealing with an administrative agency, you can maximize your chances for success and minimize your frustration if you:

  • Keep copies of all papers that you give the agency;
  • Keep a phone log of all calls you place to the agency, and who you speak with when you call;
  • Keep a calendar where you write down important deadlines in your appeal;
  • Attend all appointments scheduled with the agency or call at least 24 hours in advance to cancel;
  • Respond to all requests from the agency for additional information, and keep a record of what you provide and when you provided it; and
  • Give the agency your current phone number and address any time your contact information changes.

While these tips may help you deal directly with administrative agencies, some times you might need help from a lawyer.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help with denials, reductions, terminations and over-payments of many public benefits.


This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Are there new consumer issues that can be solved by Legal Aid? Close

Consumers facing tax foreclosure after a tax lien sale, or with certain loans and vehicle issues, should call Legal Aid to apply for assistance.  Legal Aid will evaluate and might be able to assist with problems related to:

  • student loans
  • payday loans
  • auto title loans
  • used auto purchases involving fraud, and
  • auto repossessions.

Additionally, Legal Aid will evaluate cases involving a tax foreclosure or potential tax foreclosure where the county has sold the tax lien debt to a debt collector and the debt collector is actively collecting on the debt and/or initiating foreclosure.

Some of these matters are new areas of service and are in addition to the numerous other types of problems Legal Aid handles.  Please call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for legal assistance.


This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know about Health Care through Medicaid and the Marketplace? Close

All low-income Ohioans should be enrolled in free or reduced cost health care.  People between the ages of 19-64 whose income is below 138% of the federal poverty level should apply for Medicaid immediately and contact Legal Aid if denied coverage.  Ohioans can apply for Medicaid at or in person at their local Department of Job and Family Services anytime.

Anyone whose income is between 100% – 400% of the federal poverty level is eligible for tax credits to reduce the cost of health coverage through the Marketplace.  Anyone who has or needs health coverage through the Marketplace should be aware of the following dates and deadlines:

Marketplace Deadlines:

  • November 15, 2014. Open Enrollment begins. Apply for, keep, or change your coverage.
  • December 15, 2014. Enroll by the 15th if you want new coverage that begins on January 1, 2015. If your plan is changing or you want to change plans, enroll by the 15th to avoid a lapse in coverage.
  • December 31, 2014. Coverage ends for 2014 plans. Coverage for 2015 plans can start as soon as January 1st.
  • February 15, 2015. This is the last day you can apply for 2015 coverage before the end of Open Enrollment.


To buy Marketplace insurance outside of Open Enrollment, you must qualify for a Special Enrollment Period due to a qualifying life event like marriage, birth or adoption of a child, or loss of other health coverage.  For more information or to apply, go to


This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I have an administrative hearing scheduled but do not speak English. What are my rights? Close

Federal law states that you have the right to an interpreter in an administrative hearing if you are a person with limited English proficiency (LEP). This means that you do not speak, read, write, or understand English fluently. Additionally, LEP individuals who are not involved in the administrative hearing, but who need to be there, like a parent or guardian, also have the right to an interpreter. Your family members or children should not be used instead of a qualified interpreter from the agency/organization. LEP individuals have the right to participate in administrative hearings in the same way as someone who speaks and understands English fluently.

Examples of agencies that must provide you with an interpreter: courts; U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services; Social Security; Veterans Administration; IRS; Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services (Unemployment Compensation & welfare office); Medicaid office; Bureau of Motor Vehicles; public housing agencies; and public and charter/community schools.

Asking for an interpreter:

  • Ask an employee of the court, agency, or organization for an interpreter.
  • If the person you ask says no: ask for a supervisor, customer service representative, or ombudsman (person who hears complaints).

What to do if you do not receive an interpreter:

  • If you still do not receive an interpreter, you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
  • You can file a complaint by either sending a letter or using DOJ’s complaint form.  The form is on DOJ’s website.  You can do this in either English or your first language.
  • The complaint should explain when and how the agency did not give you an interpreter or how they did not speak to you in a language you can understand.
  • Please keep a copy of the complaint for your records.
  • The letter or form should be sent to:                             Interpreter Address Info Block





  • DOJ Website:
  • DOJ Phone: 1 – (888) 848-5306
  • DOJ will respond to you with a letter or phone call.


This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Megan Sprecher & Volunteer Attorney Jessica Baaklini appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How can I use the Social Security website? Close

Social Security’s website is Like any government website, the official website of the Social Security Administration is full of helpful information. There are long lists of publications, forms and other web resources.

There are many things that can be done through Social Security online. This includes applying for benefits, appealing decisions, finding out if you can get benefits, and estimating future benefits.

The website is where folks can set up an account with Social Security. Up to 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at  With an account, folks can see information from their home, office or library.

The Social Security Statement is one thing that you can get on the website. It is a good planning tool. It provides people age 18 and older with important information about their wages and taxes.

Individuals who currently receive benefits can manage their benefit payments. Folks can get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

You can’t apply for a card online because the Social Security office has to verify certain documents. You can, however, complete and print the application to bring to your local office.

The Social Security website has undergone changes to make it easier to read and navigate. You can find more answers by first going to the Frequently Asked Questions tab at the very top of the home page. This tab section also allows you to convert the website to its Spanish version as well.


This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Karla Perry and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How does the IRS help with tax preparation, refunds, and fraud? Close

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has made it easier for taxpayers to file their tax returns, as well as to monitor and protect their federal income tax accounts.  Here are some examples:

Complete your tax return for free. If your income is below $58,000 – you can use free federal income tax preparation software.  It is available online 24/7.  The IRS states the process is safe and secure. Refunds may be directly deposited into your bank account. Visit for more details.

Obtain tax return and income transcripts at no cost.  If you need your past income  tax or earnings records, for example, because you are applying for a mortgage or a student loan, you may obtain a copy for free. Tax return and income transcripts may be ordered online, without charge, and delivered electronically or by mail. Taxpayers also may sign and submit to the IRS Form 4506-T or call (800) 908-9946 to obtain their free tax return transcripts. IRS forms can be found at

Monitor the status of your refund.  The most up to date information about your refund can be found using the IRS tool “Where’s My Refund?” ( Taxpayers also can learn the status of their refund by calling the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954.  If you haven’t received your refund within 20 days of filing an electronic return or six weeks from the time of mailing your paper return, you may contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 and a representative will figure out the status of your refund.

Contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.  If you have a problem with the IRS that you can’t resolve, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is available to help you. TAS is an independent organization within the IRS that works on behalf of taxpayers. TAS may help taxpayers who have financial difficulties, who face an immediate threat of adverse action, or who have not heard back from the IRS in response to a question. You can contact the Local Taxpayer Advocate (LTA) at (216) 522-7134 or send Form 911 to the LTA by fax at (855) 824-6409 or by mail to 1240 E. Ninth St., Room 423, Cleveland, Ohio 44199.

Protect yourself from refund fraud related to identity theft. Refund fraud can cause lots of problems for taxpayers. Determine if any of the following problems have occurred:  a.  More than one tax refund was filed for you for a single tax year;

b.   IRS records show you received more wages than you actually earned; or

c.   Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received incorrect information concerning a change in your income.


If so, you should immediately act in the following ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

1.  Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490 and

complete and submit to the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit Form 14039;

2.  Notify your local police department to make a report;

3.  Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through its Identity Theft Hotline

at or by calling (877)438-4338; and,

4.  Contact the three major credit bureaus:  Equifax – or

(800) 525-6285; Experian – or (888) 397-3742; and,

TransUnion – or (800) 680-7289 to tell them you were

a victim of identity theft.


Guard against tax preparer abuse. If you believe your tax return was not prepared correctly, immediately complete and submit to the IRS Form 14157. Fraud by tax preparers occurs when the preparer claims inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits and/or excessive exemptions on returns prepared for their clients. For suspected cases of fraud, contact the Ohio Attorney General at 800-282-0515, local law enforcement agencies and an attorney who specializes in civil litigation who will counsel you on your rights and remedies.


This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Dennis Dobos and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What is domestic violence and how can I recognize it? Close

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of repeated physical, sexual and emotional violence and behaviors that one person in a relationship uses to exercise power and control over the other. Domestic violence is never a random or isolated incident and it often increases in severity and frequency over time.

Abusers control family or household members with verbal insults, emotional abuse, financial control and threats. If these tactics do not work, the abuser then enforces his threats with physical and/or sexual violence. The consequence of the abuse for a victim depends on the tactics, but all abuse emotionally and psychologically hurts the victim. Abusive behaviors always create fear in the victim, force the victim to do what s/he does not want to do, and prevents the victim from doing what s/he wishes to do.

Domestic violence occurs in all communities among people of all income levels, racial and religious backgrounds, gay, lesbian, straight, transgendered, and people with disabilities.

Why do partners abuse?

In the most simple terms, they abuse because they can and it works. Hitting, kicking, choking, threatening, name calling and more are deliberate decisions based on what the abuser has learned through observation, experience and reinforcement. Abuse is not caused by illness, genetics, or substance use. It is not caused by “out of control anger.” Victims do not make their abuser hurt them.  Abusers decide when to be abusive to their partners and often choose which part of the victim’s body to hit so as not to leave noticeable marks. Others choose the place and time to carry out their assaults in an effort to exert the most power and control over the victim.

Are you in an abusive relationship?

You may be a victim of abuse if:

1)      Your abuser’s failure to accept responsibility forces you to compensate for his behavior.

2)      You often feel that you have no control over your life. Decisions about family, friends and activities are based on how the abuser will react.

3)      You may feel guilty over the failure of your relationship. This is reinforced by the abuser who blames you for all that goes wrong. Guilt over failure may be accompanied by shame for “putting up” with the abuse.

4)      The abuser blames you and you begin to believe it over time.

5)      Your behavior may be reinforced by economic dependence and increasing feelings of helplessness and fear as the abuse continues.

6)      You may fear the abuser’s anger but you may also deny or minimize this fear. Denial and minimization are common coping strategies for surviving abuse.

7)      You become isolated form friends, family or neighbors and other forms of support. This is not by choice.

Your abuser may:

1)      Be extremely jealous and suspect you of being unfaithful without any rational reason or evince to support such a belief.

2)      Control your access to money, social relationships and job opportunities and may monitor all your activities by making you account for any time apart or money spent.

3)      Be emotionally dependent on you and make constant demands for reassurance and gratification.

4)      Have poor self-esteem and feel inadequate about his masculinity, sexuality and parenting. These feelings may be masked by an extremely “tough or macho image.”

5)      Enforce rigid gender roles or believe in the traditional male “head of household” role.

6)      Blame you or others for their behaviors, feelings and problems.

7)      Was abused as a child.

8)      Have few friends and poor social skills.

9)      Be cruel not only to you but to children and pets.

10)  Be preoccupied with gun, knives, etc.

11)  Respond to situations with unpredictability.

12)  Use inappropriate displays of anger if they do not get what they want which includes physical touching without consent, threaten violence, verbal abuse and breaking objects of value to you.

If you think any of the above may be true for a relationship you have, call the numbers listed in this newsletter for help. Click here to access the information online.

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Alexandria Ruden and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I do if I am experiencing domestic violence? Close

Emergency Info for Web





This information was compiled by Legal Aid Social Worker Dani Lachina and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How can domestic violence affect children? Close

Domestic violence affects everyone in a household including children.  Children may suffer physical injury or threats, but also experience emotional distress when they witness violence between their parents or other adults in the home.

If a child is not safe at home because of domestic violence, the adult victim should be supported.  Victims of violence may be able to leave the abuser and remove the children from danger, if they are able to secure emergency shelter, financial assistance, food and other basic necessities.  When a child is injured, some victims need help getting the child to a doctor, hospital, or prescribed medical treatment.  In any life threatening situation, always call 9-1-1 for help.

Many children who witness violence experience immediate and long term effects on their well- being.  Young children may experience problems sleeping, nightmares, and bedwetting.  Older children may be aggressive toward other children or the parent they live with.  Some children don’t feel hopeful about the future while other children experience learning and behavior problems. Parents and caregivers should let others involved in the child’s life know about the violence – if it’s safe to do so.  Then, teachers, coaches, and friends will understand the negative changes in behavior.

Long-term effects of domestic violence may cause children to experience shock, fear, guilt and anger.  These are normal feelings for children under the circumstances. But, the feelings can be difficult to cope with, both for the child and the adult.  Often professional support and counseling is needed to manage a child’s normal reactions to witnessing violence.

Sometimes it is necessary to engage the legal system to assist children who experience domestic violence. Parents may file a complaint to determine custody in Juvenile Court (if the parties are not married) or the Domestic Relations Court (if the parties were or are married).  Additionally, parents may file a motion to obtain a Civil Protection Order that also covers the children in order to stop future violence. These petitions, complaints, or motions should be supported by an affidavit (a written statement that a person signs, swearing it’s the truth) to explain why a court order is needed to protect the children. Forms to make these filings to protect children are available online at and…/domesticV.

Domestic violence affects the well being of children.  If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the resources listed in this newsletter for immediate help.  Legal Aid provides representation in some cases. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Davida Dodson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Where can I go to escape domestic violence and get help? Close

Cuyahoga County, in partnership with the City of Cleveland, recently opened the new Family Justice Center, a one stop center for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and stalking. The center is designed to help victims and survivors access the professionals they need, while in a comfortable, healing environment.  Cuyahoga County is excited to join the Family Justice Center movement, which has launched over 120 centers worldwide in the last fifteen years. Family Justice Centers are considered to be state of the art and let victims of crime choose better coordinated services that will help them live safer lives.

The center was launched after years of planning and coordination amongst multiple partners, including the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Teams of professionals, survivors, and funders met regularly to ensure that Cuyahoga County’s Family Justice Center was built with victim needs in mind.

Onsite service providers include the Witness/Victim Service Center, Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Frontline Services, City of Cleveland Division of Police, and City of Cleveland Prosecutor’s Office. The Family Justice Center also has relationships with the County’s Division of Children & Family Services, the County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Legal Aid attorneys. Although there are Cleveland specific services, any Cuyahoga County resident can come to the Family Justice Center for assistance with protection orders, linkages to counseling and supportive services, and assistance navigating the justice system.

No appointment is needed! The Family Justice Center is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. The address is 75 Erieview Plaza, 5th Floor, Cleveland, Ohio 44114. Free parking for victims of crime is available at the Hamilton Parking Garage, at E. 12th Street, between St. Clair and Lakeside Avenues. For more information or if you have questions, call the Family Justice Center at 216-443-7345.

This article was written by Jill Smialek of the Cuyahoga County Family Justice Center and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I know or am an immigrant suffering from domestic violence. Can I get help? Close

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including immigrants.  In fact, abusers often try to use a person’s immigration status as a method to control or abuse an immigrant victim.  For example, a U.S. citizen husband who constantly threatens to call the immigration authorities on his undocumented immigrant wife and have her deported is abusing her.

The government recognizes that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable.  There are special immigration laws that help protect immigrant victims of domestic violence.  One allows immigrant spouses of US citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPR) who have a green card to file a petition for themselves to remove conditions of residency.  A second allows victims who do not have a green card to file a self-petition if they meet certain criteria under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  A third option allows victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, to apply for a U-Visa if they can demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

Option 1: Self-petition to remove conditions of residency

When a USC or LPR applies for permanent residency status for their immigrant spouse, the immigrant spouse is granted a green card with conditional residency for two years.  Before the end of the 2 years, the immigrant spouse typically must file a joint petition, with their spouse, to remove the conditions.  However, in abusive relationships, the USC or LPR spouse often refuses to file the joint petition.   Abused immigrant spouses may file to remove the conditions on their residency by themselves if they can prove that they got married “in good faith” (not for immigration purposes), but during the marriage their spouse abused them.   If the immigrant spouse is successful in their self-petition, they then receive permanent residency status and a 10 year green card.

Option 2: Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition

The VAWA self-petition is for immigrants who do not have a “green card, but who meet one of five categories:

1) they are  married to an abusive USC or LPR spouse;

2) their USC/LPR spouse is abusing their child;

3) they were married to an abusive USC or LPR (as long as the divorce was within the last 2 years or the spouse lost their immigration status in the last 2 years);

4) they are the child of an abusive USC or LPR; or

5) they are a parent who is abused by their USC adult child.

Immigrants who complete a VAWA self-petition must show that they married their spouse in good faith, and if they were deported it would cause extreme hardship to themselves or their child.   If the self-petition is approved, the immigrant victim gets a work permit and can apply for a green card.

Option 3: U-Visas for victims of crimes

A U-visa is a type of visa available to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence.   Other eligible crimes include rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. The immigrant victim must show that they were helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.  If a U-visa application is approved, the applicant gets a work permit valid for four years.  Also, after having U-visa status for 3 years, an immigrant can apply for a green card.

More information about the immigration benefits available to domestic violence victims is available at  Legal Aid provides assistance to immigrant victims in some cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.  Legal Aid is not a government agency and does not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Katie Laskey-Donovan and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Are there housing protections for victims of domestic violence? Close

Victims of domestic violence are often forced to choose between abuse and homelessness. If a victim of abuse does not have any other place to live, victims many times will stay with their abuser.  Victims also face loss of housing and housing discrimination because of their abuser’s behavior.

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA 2013”) protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. In 2013, the law was expanded to provide more protections.

More People are Protected: VAWA 2013 covers victims of sexual assault in addition to victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  Also, VAWA 2013 now specifically protects Native American women, immigrants, LGBT victims, college students and youth.

Protections from Evictions: Under VAWA 2013, victims cannot be denied housing in federal housing programs because of being a victim of violence.  Victims also cannot be evicted from federal housing programs due to their status as victims or due to the actions of the abuser.

VAWA 2013 also created emergency housing transfer options in all federal housing programs.  Victims should be able to transfer to a different unit to have safer housing.  Plans for these options are being developed by local housing authorities.

College Students

VAWA 2013 also protects college students.  Schools must create a recording process for incidences of dating violence and report the findings. Schools also must create plans to prevent dating violence and educate victims on their rights, including the right to contact law enforcement.

Preferred Waiting Lists

Some public housing authorities and subsidized housing providers provide a preference to domestic violence victims on their waiting lists.  Victims may be able to secure subsidized housing more quickly than if they were on the regular waiting list.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, and you believe that you have been denied housing or that you are being evicted due to your abuser’s action, you should seek legal counsel.  Legal Aid provides assistance in some housing cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.


This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Abigail Staudt and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know about Civil Protection Orders (CPOs)? Close

Civil Protection Orders (CPO) are intended to help protect domestic violence victims and hold abusers accountable for their actions. Under Ohio law, domestic violence victims (“petitioner”) to file a petition against their abuser (“ respondent”)to ask the court  for relief that may decrease the violence occurring within the family.

Only the court in each county that hears domestic relations matters may issue domestic violence CPOs.   . A petitioner must provide evidence to the court that he/she or a family or household member is in immediate and present danger of domestic violence. For example, a civil protection order may be considered where a family or household member experiences recent physical abuse, threats to harm or kill or stalking behavior.

A petitioner must fill out forms and complete a sworn statement describing the violence. She/he must appear in court with the forms which will be reviewed by a magistrate to decide if an “ex parte” order should be granted.  “Ex parte” means the respondent / abuser is not in court for the hearing.  If granted, the petitioner will get a temporary protection order after this first hearing.

There is another hearing within 7 or 10 court days. At this next hearing, the respondent can be present to dispute what the petitioner says or write in his or her statement. The protection order is either granted or denied.  Sometimes the parties may agree to the terms of the CPO.  If not,  there will be a  hearing before the magistrate to decide if the petitioner has presented enough evidence to obtain a CPO. If granted, the CPO can stay in place for up to 5 years. It can also be renewed, modified or terminated by further court hearing.

If granted, the court shall order that the abuser is stopped from abusing, threatening, or stalking the petitioner and other family or household members. The court may also stop an abuser from hurting the family pet.  The court can also prohibit the abuser from having contact with any family or household member or going to the home, school, or place of employment. The court may evict the abuser and grant immediate possession of the home to the victim. The court may also order support, custody, visitation, or use of property which may include the car.

A CPO may be obtained with or without an attorney. A victim may be accompanied by a victim advocate during all stages of the proceedings.  Call the hotline phone numbers listed in this newsletter to ask about availability of DV advocates. Legal Aid helps in some domestic violence CPO cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.


This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Alexandria Ruden and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Success Stories

Board Member Profile: Tim Walters
Tim is a tremendous leader, in every sense of the word.

Read More

Learn more about Legal Aid's Board of Directors.

Legal Aid Remembers Long-Time Supporter
Mr. O’Neill was a longtime Legal Aid supporter and pro bono volunteer.

Read More

Give a gift to Legal Aid in memory of Mark O'Neill.

Legal Aid Helps Puerto Rican Community
We wanted to make sure low-income Puerto Ricans were informed about the change and the application process in order to prevent future problems. Fred

Read more about the new Puerto Rican law

Army Vet Fights Eviction
It wasn’t easy to find a safe, affordable apartment to accommodate his wheelchair and his service dog -- and this veteran needed Legal Aid’s help to keep his home.

Read More

Learn more about Legal Aid's Housing Practice.

  • photo1
  • photo1
  • photo1
  • photo1