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Archive for Monday, August 17, 2009

DIY divorce cases get limited legal aid

August 17, 2009

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Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd has seen people try to represent themselves in divorce cases.

And that, many times, creates difficulties.

Some people download legal forms they think they need from the Internet. However, the forms are typically from other states.

“They make no sense, and people really don’t know how to fill the forms out,” Shepherd said. “Judges cannot treat pro se litigants different than we treat the other litigants. As frustrating as it is, we can’t give them legal advice.”

And normally, attorneys must take on a client fully or not at all.

But help now is available.

People in Douglas County who want to represent themselves in divorce court — known as pro se litigants — can get aid from attorneys through a “limited representation” pilot program. Those attorneys might prepare documents or assist in part of the case.

Because a growing number of people opt to represent themselves in court, a state committee recommended the pilot project for Douglas, Shawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick counties and a judicial district in northwestern Kansas.

Shepherd is hopeful the project benefits pro se litigants, who often find that representing themselves can get complicated. For example, the judge said, it can be difficult to divide up retirement accounts and real estate, or settle other issues such as custody and child support.

A total of 27 Douglas County lawyers now are trained to provide limited representation. In limited representation, they can help clients with paperwork or review documents. They even can handle more complicated parts of cases.

Clients will be charged for using limited representation attorneys, but it’s expected the cost would be less than what might be paid for full representation.

Linda Koester-Vogelsang, Douglas County’s court administrator, said the pilot project should save time for litigants and for the court system.

The state committee studying the issue in 2010 will report back to the Kansas Supreme Court about how the pilot project worked.

In Douglas County, litigants in court can get a list of attorneys who are trained for limited representation and information about the pilot project.

“People can then come into court without an attorney, but at least they will have service on the other side,” Shepherd said.

The list is also available through the Clerk of the District Court’s Web site, at www.douglas-county.com/district_court/dc_limitedscope.aspx.

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