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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Training

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One challenge identified by Multnomah County was to improve the capacity of the court and court-related professionals to make informed recommendations and decisions regarding parenting time and custody in cases with domestic violence. Training for all family court practitioners was therefore a key activity. Programs were targeted for judges, court staff, custody evaluators, mediators, attorneys, advocates, therapists, and others, both as individual groups and in multidisciplinary presentations. Evaluations immediately following the programs were favorable, and anecdotal evidence indicates that participants are using the information from the trainings in their work. Additional data on the programs’ utility will be gathered in the next several months. Materials from several of the programs are below.

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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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Data Collection

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The court gathered information from survivors and professionals to identify needs and gaps that should be addressed by the project. Surveys and roundtables were used to inform the site’s selection and development of activities and resources.

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Data Collection

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Challenges identified by the project team included a lack of accurate identification of domestic violence by family court practitioners and survivors’ lack of understanding and information regarding family court procedures, available relief, and governing law. Another challenge concerned the inconsistency in court orders around the intersection of domestic violence and custody, both in the inclusion of child-related relief in protection orders and in properly accounting for domestic violence in divorce and custody cases. To better assess these gaps and their impact, the site conducted several roundtables with different practitioner groups as well as survivors, and the bench and family law bar were surveyed to gather more data about the scope of these issues and to inform the development of possible solutions.

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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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Comprehensive data collection

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The Delaware team decided to gather as much information as possible about the court’s current operations, to determine where changes were most needed and how best to improve the court’s handling of custody cases involving domestic violence. This information was used to formulate a comprehensive list of recommendations for the court. A variety of strategies were used:

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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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