From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Attorney’s skills are ‘godsend’ to CAPA’s single parents

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

For Cyndi Phillips of Spokane, attorney Anne Marie Liebhaber was a godsend. As a single mother of three children who was headed toward a life of alcoholism, Phillips credits Liebhaber with helping her get sober and onto the road to healing.

For Anne Marie Liebhaber, also of Spokane, helping women such as Phillips is her life ministry.

Liebhaber works in the CAPA (Childbirth and Parenting Alone) program for Catholic Charities as an attorney-advocate for single parents. She has an office in St. Anne Children’s Home, and her work revolves around custody issues, visitation rights, and financial support. She gives legal advice, holds seminars and often goes to court with clients.

But the attorney dispenses motherly admonishment along with the legal help. Phillips said Liebhaber minced no words in telling her that if she didn’t sober up, she would lose her children. “She told me that if I wasn’t serious, she wouldn’t help me,” Phillips said. “She was emotionally supportive and even prayed with me.”

Now a year and a half later, Phillips has custody of her three children, works in a day care and has a home for herself and her children. “She was so supportive and never, ever failed to tell me what I needed to hear,” Phillips said.

Liebhaber has a passion for her work since she knows firsthand the pitfalls and problems of being a single mother raising children by herself.

When her marriage ended she was left to raise five children by herself. Family members lived far from Spokane and she recalled feeling isolated and alone. Even though her former husband was in the military and paid child support, Liebhaber had never worked outside the home.

After the birth of her sixth child, Liebhaber decided to finish her college education. She enrolled at Gonzaga University and earned a bachelor’s degree in the general studies program. She sought legal information at GU when one of her children was caught shoplifting and discovered a purpose for her life. She decided to become an attorney and was able to get a full scholarship to GU’s Law School. She graduated with a law degree in 1992.

As a single mother, Liebhaber had also sought help from Catholic Charities’ CAPA program. She learned that CAPA did not offer legal services. That focused her life’s purpose even more.

She worked as an intern in the family law clinic at GU’s University Legal Services office and CAPA would often call her for information, even before she got her degree. CAPA’s director, Bonnie Deabler, said as Liebhaber grew more familiar with the CAPA mission, “she grew to love what we do here.”

Once she had her law degree, Liebhaber went to Mike Ryan, then head of Catholic Family Services, and challenged him to provide legal services for single parents. She told him that if “our church is pro-life, it has to support those mothers who choose life.” Ryan challenged Liebhaber to come up with a proposal. She did and is still with Catholic Charities nine years later.

Though many associate CAPA’s worth with single mothers, the program also assists single fathers. “Men are often alienated from their children by the rules, since the legal system is, by definition, adversarial,” said Liebhaber. “Children need their fathers.”

Bonnie Deabler is director of St. Anne Children and Family Center in Spokane, where CAPA is situated. She called the program’s association with Liebhaber “a perfect fit.” Before Liebhaber came on staff, it was difficult to find attorneys to help CAPA clients, said Deabler.

“She knew she wanted to go into family law. She wanted to be of service to single parents,” Deabler said.

To be pregnant, single and alone is an all-too common state for many women, especially the young and vulnerable. Nearly 30 percent of the children born in Spokane County and in Washington state as a whole are born to single women. “Society discounts single mothers,” Liebhaber said, “and robs them of their dignity.”

Society discounts the dignity of human sexuality, too. Liebhaber said that “culturally, society has promoted unrestricted sexual behavior. It debases, exploits and markets sexuality and this undergirds many out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

Liebhaber went on to say that Christians need to “reflect to young women the dignity of our bodies and of our sexuality. Life comes from our bodies.”

No matter why they get pregnant, Liebhaber honors all mothers, but especially single mothers: “They could choose abortion. But in spite of all odds, they choose life.” She praised the Church for its strong pro-life stance and reflects that belief in her work.

Liebhaber’s work is not limited to CAPA. She also assists single parents with legal questions who are participating in the Union Gospel Mission, or are at Anna Ogden Hall, the shelter for women with children where she connected with Phillips.

In a volunteer capacity, Liebhaber also advocates for people in domestic violence cases at the YWCA, representing one side or the other if they lack legal representation.

No matter where they are or what their needs are, Liebhaber tries to put herself in each woman’s place. “It’s the old cliché,” she said. “‘There but for the grace of God go I.’” She is grateful that she can represent them and help them in their need. “I am their advocate, their voice.”

“She has tremendous capacity and compassion for single mothers and fathers,” Deabler said. “She gives 110 percent.”

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