Help for Self-Represented Litigants

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Like courts across the country, Cook County experiences a high percentage of self-represented litigants, which presents unique challenges when domestic violence is present. The site developed materials to help victims and respondents better understand the process and their options. Also, the help desk did not have any bilingual staff. Cook County is a highly diverse community, and a significant portion of the court’s litigants have limited English proficiency. To meet this need, the court hired a bilingual help desk staff person to assist non-English speakers.

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Help with Parenting Time in Protection Orders

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Cook County’s Domestic Violence Division is not a family court accustomed to making custody determinations, but instead a high-volume court hearing protection orders and domestic violence criminal matters. Finding time in busy court calendars to address all of the details involved in creating a parenting plan so that safe, effective child-related relief can be included in protection orders was therefore a challenge. Two innovations proved to be immensely helpful: a newly created position called the expediter, which operates in many ways as a domestic violence-informed mediator, and a supervised visitation liaison.

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Help for Self-Represented Litigants

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Delaware developed a “core document” with information to help self-represented victims in protection from abuse (PFA) orders and custody matters. In addition to the core document, the site created one-page infographics, visually interesting and intuitive charts to address key questions that frequently arise in such cases, such as what a PFA order can do, differences between types of PFA orders, different aspects of custody, and how to tell whether Delaware has jurisdiction over child custody.

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Help for self-represented litigants

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A primary challenge identified during the planning phase of the project was that survivors lacked the information needed to make informed choices and lacked necessary support to seek...
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Self-represented litigant materials

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Most litigants in family court, in Hennepin County as in the rest of the country, do not have lawyers and instead represent themselves. The team identified litigants’ lack of information and understanding about family court procedures as one of the challenges for the project. To help address this gap, Hennepin County created a series of materials designed to help litigants understand court processes and present their cases in the best way possible.

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Court access for Native Americans

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Native Americans experience domestic violence at higher rates than any other group in the United States, yet the Hennepin County team found that very few accessed the relief available from orders for protection in family court or tribal court. To meet this need, the team created two positions, a Native Liaison and a Community Outreach Specialist, to build a relationship between the court and the Native population and to provide information about what family court can do to help. Below are some of the materials that were developed as well as job descriptions of the two positions.

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Procedural fairness

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Early data indicated that litigants with cases involving domestic violence did not feel respected or understood and did not believe they were treated fairly in many instances. A list of recommendations to improve litigants’ court experience was developed. These included easy tips that can be easily incorporated using existing resources in every day court interactions as well as more involved policy recommendations. Of course, the ultimate arbiter of whether these efforts have been successful is the survivors themselves, so the site developed an annual survey and comment cards to provide ongoing feedback about how the court is doing and where additional improvements might be needed.

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