Self-Help Divorce Workshop Series Presented by: Michelle C. Hopkins, Esq. Los Angeles Superior Court March 17, 2006 The Self-Help Model • Court-based self-help three-part dissolution workshop series. • Legal advice model developed by The Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law. • Self-Help model piloted in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2003 by LASC Self-Help Collaboration Project with the Family Law Information Center. The Self-Help Series • Workshop 1: Litigant prepares, files and serves initial forms to start divorce case. • Workshop 2: 45 days after Workshop 1, litigant prepares Declaration of Disclosure, Property Declarations and Request to Enter Default. • Workshop 3: 30-40 after Workshop 2, litigant prepares Judgment Forms. Getting Started: Advertising • Only Workshop 1 is advertised to the public. • Informational flyers posted and distributed by court clerks, FLIC, legal services agencies, and posted on LASC website. • District courts provide flyers with divorce starter packets. • Clerks refer litigants to the Workshop 1. Pre-Screening Issues • Workshop 1 is offered on a first come, first served basis. • Pre-screening: litigants who want to initiate a divorce case in Los Angeles County or prepare a Response to a divorce case filed in Los Angeles County. • Workshop 2 is not advertised. After Workshop 1 litigants are provided with a “ticket” to the next class. Workshop Setting • Classroom environment. Ideal Size: 8-10 litigants. • Ideal Staff: workshop presenter and 2-3 assistants. • Los Angeles Model uses JusticeCorps students as trained volunteer assistants. • Judicial Council forms enlarged to chart size and presented to the group. • All common forms presented first. Keep all litigants on the same form. • Allow questions during presentation. Repeat questions to the group. Workshop Materials • Litigants provided with a folder containing Divorce Overview, Proof of Service of Summons, forms packet and blank Response. • Additional Judicial Council forms and handouts regarding California law distributed during presentation. • Ticket to Workshop 2 distributed at the conclusion of Workshop 1. Explaining the “Big Picture”: The Divorce Overview • A visual roadmap to the divorce process. • Explain litigant’s role and responsibility in the process. • Explain options for completing the process if Default or Response. • Educate re: TROs and temporary orders. • Explain court resources: FLF, Mediation • Explain the spectrum of legal services available to self represented litigants. Workshop 1: The Forms Packet • Summons, Case Cover, Petition, Property Declarations, Proof of Service, Fee Waiver and UCCJEA. • Explain the purpose of each form. • Provide additional information and answer questions during presentation of forms. • Proactive approach: address the common myths that arise with each form. Petition for Dissolution • What is the purpose of the form? • Respondent can disagree with you. • Tools used during presentation: • Provide visual explanations of complex concepts. (Charts, white board, handouts). • Buhai’s Community vs. Separate Property handout for characterizing property. • An “inventory tool”: Harry Jacob’s Worksheet for FL-160 Property Declaration. Quality Control • Attorney present at all times. • Questions answered during presentation. • Trained volunteer assistants available for litigants during presentation. • After group presentation: 1:1 forms review with litigants and JusticeCorps. • Final document review by Attorney. Ticket to Workshop 2 • Litigants given Ticket to Workshop Two with specific return date and homework. • Homework: bring paycheck stubs, specific money values of assets and debts, and complete income worksheets. • All litigants encouraged to return to next workshop whether or not filing and service complete. Workshop 2 • Same group of litigants return together as a class. • Print out case summaries to check on status. • All returning litigants participate whether Default or Response filed. • Tool for calculating income: Worksheet for average monthly income. • Review the divorce overview: type of cases (Default or Response) and options for completing those types of cases. Workshop 3 • After Workshop 2 litigants given Ticket to Workshop 3 with specific information needed for Judgment. • Printout case summaries and explain options for completion of case. • All Judgment forms completed as a group then smaller groups or 1:1 assistance depending on the issues. • Tools: Checklist for preparation of Judgment forms with specific referrals if Judgment rejected. Innovative Technology: Creating a Hybrid Workshop • AOC Attorney Harry Jacobs has developed a Hot Docs computer program to be used with the live workshops. • After a short initial interview with litigant, computer program generates all forms need for workshop with many fields completed. • Hybrid concept: integrate Hots Docs program with the live workshop presentation to generate legible, accurate forms and to provide more time for detailed explanations of California substantive law and procedures.
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