GREELEY — For many low-income families, domestic relations cases that go to court often feature one or both parties representing themselves without legal counsel.
In data released by the Colorado Bar Foundation, 50 percent of Weld County domestic relations cases involve self-represented litigants for both parties.
And a further 16 percent of those Weld County cases involve one party as a self-representing litigant.
To address these numbers, the 19th Judicial District has opened the new Court Information Center inside the Centennial Building at 915 10th St. in Greeley.
According to a release from the district, the Court Information Center can help self-represented litigants locate and complete court forms, review documents for completeness and can answer general and case-specific procedural questions. The Center also provides computer access for research and drafting purposes as well as online parenting classes.
“A significant percentage of cases in our courts involve self-represented litigants, most notably in domestic relations matters,” said 19th Judicial District Chief Judge James F. Hartmann Jr “The resources offered through the Court Information Center will assist these individuals as well as offering other services to our community.”
Mary Athey, the self-represented litigant coordinator for the center, views the program as an important option for those looking for legal services.
“A large portion of the people we see come into our center are for domestic relations. So a lot of them are either victims of domestic violence, or an average couple that wants to get divorced, or their grandparent’s endowment wants to establish visitation - something like that,” Athey said. “So usually people come and they don’t even know where to start.”
Most of the people coming into the information center are ready for diving into the statutes, Athey said.
“They come in and want to know “where is square one?’” Athey said. “We can provide that information for them and let them know if they want a divorce or if they want to start a small-claims case, whatever you want to do, we can help you get the forms, we can provide them to you for a small fee or you can get them yourself online.”
With forms in hand, the self-representing litigants can sit down at the desks to study, with or without the guidance of the court information center staff.
“We can sit down with them and work through the process so that way they understand what it is they’re doing, where they’re starting and where they’re going to go — where the next step is,” Athey said. “So it’s not like we’re going to start them off and just leave them, we’re going to explain the whole process to them.”
In 1980, there was one legal service attorney for every 4,839 eligible clients. Today there is one CLS attorney for every 20,465 eligible individuals according to statistics released by the Colorado Bar Foundation.
Chief Justice Directive 1301 lays out the parameters of what the information center can do, Athey said.
“There are still some fuzzy areas, but the way we handle that is if it is a fuzzy area, then we’re just not to approach it and we’ll tell them they need to talk to an attorney,” Athey said. “I think most people who come in here don’t need the legal advice potion as much; they know they want a divorce, they know they need protected, they know they need to file a case.”
The majority of the clients are seeking procedural guidance, Athey said, and the information center offers this service.
The Center is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursdays by appointment.
The center also hosts a series of information sessions, the “How-To” series, on the third Tuesday of every month from 4-5 p.m.
“Every month will feature a different topic, and some of them can be broad, for example what we have coming up on November 19 is just ‘How to Prepare Yourself for Court,’ and that’s going to be for people in domestic cases, in a variety of civil cases,” Athey said. “So people are going to come in and we’re going to let them know how to tackle that area.”
Contact Ben Wiebesiek at 303-659-2522, ext. 205, or email email@example.com.