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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Judicial survey instruments

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Cook County differs from the other FCEP sites in that the court participating in the project is not a family court but a domestic violence court, so its focus in the project is improving the availability of child-related relief in protection order cases. One challenge identified early in the project was disagreement among practitioners, including judges, about the appropriateness of child-related relief in protection orders. To determine the scope of this disagreement, the judges were surveyed in an effort to find common ground for a shared understanding of the purpose and utility of child-related relief in protection orders.

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Data collection form

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One challenge identified by the team was a gap in the data available about what relief was requested and provided in protection orders, including child-related relief. To fill this gap and build evidence regarding what services and resources are most needed and helpful, the team created a data collection form and database to track litigants’ experience of the court.

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Help desk screening/triage process

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To improve the availability of child-related relief in protection orders, identification of cases where the parties share children is necessary. By using its already existing help desk, the team developed a screening questionnaire that identified when concerns regarding children were present and referred the survivor to appropriate resources. Also, an alert card was created, to be provided to the survivor, when the parties had shared children; this alert card notifies any others helping the survivor with the protection order process to be aware of child-related issues and the possibility that a request for child-related relief may be needed and appropriate.

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Judicial Training

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Part of the challenge for Cook County’s Domestic Violence Division, which is not a family court accustomed to making custody determinations, was a hesitance to include child-related relief in protection orders because of an unfamiliarity with the applicable legal standards and a perceived lack of understanding about how to create appropriate orders that effectively addressed the domestic violence in the case and protected survivors and children while permitting parenting time for the respondent. A judicial training was held to introduce a framework for analyzing these issues, with practical scenarios to allow participants to apply the framework to a set of facts. Also, the judges were provided with information about judicial duties regarding neutrality when considering a settlement proposal that raises safety concerns. To request similar information or a training in your community, please use the Contact link above.

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