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Best Practices for Assisting Self Represented Litigants in Domestic Violence Cases How to help clients get the legal assistance that they need!

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Presentation on theme: "Best Practices for Assisting Self Represented Litigants in Domestic Violence Cases How to help clients get the legal assistance that they need!"— Presentation transcript:

1 Best Practices for Assisting Self Represented Litigants in Domestic Violence Cases How to help clients get the legal assistance that they need!

2 What is Assisted Pro Se? A person who acts as his or her own attorney is a pro se litigant. The Assisted Pro Se Program at Texas Advocacy Project is a statewide effort to help victims who have no choice but to represent themselves pro se in order to free themselves from their abusers.

3 Purpose of Presentation Because many of the victims that seek shelter services cannot afford to hire an attorney, legal advocates play a key role in helping the client navigate the divorce or custody process. This presentation will provide tips and information to enable legal advocates to successfully provide assistance to pro se litigants.

4 Legal Advocate vs. Attorney Legal Advocates CAN:  Edit legal documents for spelling and grammar mistakes  Accompany the client when filing documents and appearing in court  Assist attorney in maintaining contact with the client  Provide important safety planning for each step in the legal process Legal Advocates CANNOT engage in the unauthorized practice of law:  Draft legal documents  Give legal advice  Hold themselves out as the client’s legal representative  Speak on behalf of the client in court

5 Legal Advocate’s role in assisting Pro Se clients Advocates are the main sources of client referrals for APS. If a client applies for the program and is not working with a shelter, she is strongly encouraged to make contact with the local DV agency – but it is not a requirement for eligibility.

6 Legal Advocate’s role in assisting Pro Se clients Each APS client is assigned to a staff attorney for the duration of the case. Advocates can assist staff attorneys by:  Acting as a liaison between the attorney and the client,  Providing critical safety planning through each phase of the case,  Keeping the client focused and on task for filings, hearings, etc.,  Helping the client navigate the courthouse.

7 TAP Attorney’s role Client interaction  Explain services available to them  Discuss legal options  Safety planning  Draft all court documents  Draft instructions and script for client to use in court

8 Use of Technology in APS Cases Pilot program in six shelters across the state  Kiosk – computer, camera, scanner, printer  Video teleconferencing with client and attorney Benefits  clients receive face to face legal advice and documents in real time  Attorney can make changes to documents and make them available to client instantly on the computer so she can print it out and take to court

9 What Kinds of Cases are “Good APS Cases”? Divorce  No children born during marriage to father that is not also the spouse**  Client is not currently pregnant  If there are children, client must know whereabouts of spouse  No unresolved CPS cases  Client agrees to adhere to filing deadlines and is comfortable speaking in front of a judge

10 What Kinds of Cases are “Good APS Cases”? Protective Orders Suit Affect the Parent Child Relationship (Establishing Visitation and Child Support)  See previous requirements for Divorce cases

11 4 Steps of a Pro Se Divorce 1. Filing the Original Petition for Divorce 2. Notifying the Respondent 3. The Waiting Period 4. Final Hearing for Divorce

12 Step 1: Filing the Original Petition for Divorce Assigned staff attorney will draft all documents required for initial filing and send to the client with specific instructions for review and filing. – Depending on whether or not children are involved, there may be as many as four different documents to file. – It is often helpful when the legal advocate reviews the documents with the client to assist with any editing that may need to be done. – The client must file all documents sent to them within a reasonable amount of time after receipt. – Advocates may need to accompany the client to the courthouse to help her find the right offices.

13 Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs If a client is unable to pay the court costs, she can file this document to get the costs waived. Once the Affidavit is filed, the District Clerk is still under a duty to assist with service of citation on the Respondent. Problem: Many clerks will not continue with their duties until the judge has signed off on the Affidavit. This is a violation of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 145. Some counties will attempt to challenge these Affidavits in untimely hearings. Solution: Through the APS program, staff attorneys can work with clients to educate court staff on the relevant Rules.

14 Step 2: Notifying the Respondent The Respondent must be legally notified that a Petition for Divorce has been filed. This can be accomplished by the following methods: – Respondent signs a Waiver of Citation – Personal service by a sheriff or constable, – Substitute service on a resident of the household, – Service by posting/publication.

15 Waiver of Citation v. Personal Service Waiver:  Acknowledgment that OP has received copy of Petition  Waives issuance and service of citation  Waives right to any further notification of hearings, motions, etc.  Must be notarized, signed by Respondent and filed with the Court Personal Service  Can only be performed by sheriff, constable, or private process server  Respondent will be given deadline to file an “answer” with the Court  If out of county, client must contact the appropriate agency and cooperate with the requirements of that county  Serving agency must file Return of Service with the Court

16 Step 3: The Waiting Period A court cannot grant a divorce until the Petition has been on file for at least 60 days. Clients should contact the court periodically during this time to ensure service has been accomplished and to find out if Respondent has filed an answer. Waiting Period EXCEPTION!! Client does not have to wait 60 days if: 1. There has been a conviction/deferred adjudication for an offense involving family violence, OR 2. There is an active Protective Order or Emergency Protective Order in effect.

17 Step 4: Finalizing the Divorce Client may set final hearing date for any time after the 60 day waiting period expires. – Respondent must be give written notice of the hearing date only if there is an answer on file. – APS clients will be provided with a custom-drafted Final Decree of Divorce, all other documents needed for filing at the final hearing, and a script to read from during the prove- up. – It is beneficial to have a legal advocate accompany the client to court for the hearing in order to assist in finding the correct courtroom, provide moral support, etc.

18 After the Final Hearing The client will need to: Obtain a certified copy of the signed Decree from the clerk’s office. This will be used to change the married name on the driver’s license/Social Security card. Ensure Bureau of Vital Statistics form is filled out and filed with the Court. Discuss necessary steps to set up child support payments with the clerk. If a Withholding of Wages Order was signed, send a copy of it by certified mail to Respondent’s employer. Send a copy of the Decree to the Respondent (optional in most cases). Wait 30 days after final hearing to remarry.

19 Other TAP programs HOTLINES – Family Violence Legal Line HOPE ( ) – Family Law Hotline FAIR ( ) – Sexual Assault Legal Hotline SAFE ( )

20 Other TAP programs (cont’d) Advocacy and Training Justice Initiative Teen Justice Initiative Shelter Callbacks Handbags for Hope Backpacks for Hope

21 Contact Information Denise Margo Moy – Legal Director (phone) D’An Anders – Technical Advocate (phone) (fax) P.O. Box 833 Austin, Texas 78767


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