October 1, 2014

Family Court system launches self-help site

People who are too poor to hire an attorney to represent them in Family Court cases will no longer have to worry about where they can find legal representation. The Committee on Access to Family Courts has launched a “Representing Yourself” website. It’s already shown that thousands of litigants who cannot afford an attorney are taking advantage of the resources so they can help themselves navigate through Missouri’s family court divisions.

                PDF forms are available on the site for people to fill out. The services offered on the website are free in some counties, though not statewide. Legal Counsel, Katherine Zacharias says the audience intended for these forms is the lay person who wants to be self-represented. She says the committee’s goal for creating this website was to create self-representation for individuals who have household incomes of $30,000 or less. Approximately 75 percent of users who have used the site support children with their household income.

                “Representing Yourself”can provide assistance in a dissolving marriage, child custody, support, name change, paternity, visitation; enforcement of orders and domestic violence orders of protection.

                 She says the Committee has found a correlation between households with low income levels with lower levels of education, a reason to make the site as user friendly as possible to those who might not know how the family court system works. Based on user responses through an online survey located on the website, a little more than a quarter of its users have completed some college courses, about one-third have earned a high school diploma or GED, while many have not obtained a high school diploma.

                A concern of the committee when the site was launched was people’s internet accessibility and if individuals would lack availability when they needed to use a computer to get to the services. About 60 percent of users have indicated that they are able to access the internet at home, while 25 percent say they have accessed the site from either work or a public library.

To find out more information on Representing Yourself, go to www.selfrepresent.mo.gov.