2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Malissa Durham

Malissa Durham

Name of Host Organization: AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania
City, State: Philadelphia
Issue area: AIDS/HIV, Family Law
Sponsors: Norflet Progress Fund

The Project

Malissa provided direct legal representation in family law matters to people living with HIV in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
AIDS diagnoses in this country have not slowed, but people are living longer and fuller lives than they ever could have imagined at the beginning of the epidemic. People with HIV are getting married, having children, and encountering an array of legal issues that come with family creation and dissolution. The client base, predominately people living in poverty, people of color, and members of the LGBT community, is already at a disadvantage when it comes to equal access to the legal system. Once HIV is added to the already intensely emotional realm of family law, justice free of the influence of misinformation and discrimination often seems out of reach. This project will work to eliminate HIV stigma in the family law context and provide people living with HIV sort of stability that makes HIV a manageable chronic illness. This project fills a service gap in the mission of the AIDS Law Project.
Fellowship Highlights: 
In the past two years, Malissa has:
• Completed standby guardianship documents for ill parents who wished to make arrangements for their children's custody in the event that they became too ill to parent.
• Advised clients on the intersections of HIV criminalization and Intimate Partner Violence and helped clients navigate the tenuous legal climate in Pennsylvania to obtain Protection from Abuse Orders.
• Conducted public benefits analyses for couples considering in marriage in the wake of the legalization of same sex marriage in Pennsylvania
• Created a Pro Se Representation Guide for clients with the capacity and desire to represent themselves in common family law matters including divorce and child support.
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Malissa will:
• Begin work the Paris-based tech legal start up Wonder.Legal and further their mission to bridge the gap in civil legal assistance between individuals who qualify for legal aid and those who can afford to hire private attorneys.

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