NEW SEMINARS HELP FAMILY COURT LITIGANTS
With more than three-quarters of Family Court litigants representing themselves, there is a tremendous need for information to assist them in navigating the court system. Recently introduced self-help seminars held by the Court are providing another resource to help these litigants. Seminars on child custody, entitled “The ABC’s of Custody” are being held both in the New Castle County Courthouse and at various community locations, including libraries. In addition, new seminars to assist persons filing guardianships will begin in February.
The seminars join an existing set of tools to help self-represented Family Court litigants, including instructional packets and forms, frequently asked questions, a website, and a self-help center as well as a limited pro bono assistance program in New Castle County. While these tools are extremely valuable, the seminars provide an important additional dimension. Jody Huber, Director of Pro Se Services for Family Court, explains that “while our existing materials and website are very helpful, some individuals gain a greater understanding from a seminar setting such as this. Particularly in the area of family law, which often involves highly emotional cases, receiving in-person explanations of procedure and law can significantly reduce anxiety.” The seminars use the existing self-help materials as a resource and also review relevant statutes, court rules, and case law to provide litigants with as much information as possible while avoiding giving legal advice or discussing individual cases. Although they are currently taught solely by Ms. Huber, she is interested in finding ways to incorporate volunteer attorneys into the seminars, and perhaps use videos to reach a larger audience.
In addition to assisting litigants, the seminars also help the Court since, according to Ms. Huber, “better prepared litigants mean better use of judicial resources and better presentation of the merits of cases.” The seminars, which are free of charge, are generally limited to 10 persons in order to allow for questions and discussion. Interested persons are encouraged to sign up for sessions in advance by contacting the self-help center or sending an e-mail through the Court’s website.