Meaningful Access to the Courts for Self-Represented Litigants

The number of persons who represent themselves in court proceedings has increased significantly in recent years. These individuals are referred to as self-represented litigants or pro se litigants. Family law matters, such as uncontested divorces or dissolutions and child support modifications, are common areas where individuals choose to represent themselves. The increase in self-representation affects the court system because individuals have a constitutional right to represent themselves and the courts have a duty to make certain that all individuals have meaningful access to the courts.

Self-Help Centers/Legal Forms and Kits

Self-help centers offer reference materials, forms, and instructions to help self-represented litigants with routine cases. Some courts have set up self-help centers within the courthouse. Lists of self-help centers are available on the Internet. No-fault divorce kits are on the market. Packets containing forms for writing a will, a power of attorney, or a contract are also readily available. Internet websites that provide self-help support are also available.

Legal Information But Not Legal Advice

Court staff can answer self-represented litigants' questions about court rules and procedures. Court staff can also answer questions about completing forms and meeting deadlines. Some courts have legal facilitator programs, which are designed to provide legal information and education to self-represented litigants. However, persons who are not licensed to practice law cannot give legal advice or suggest legal strategy or tactics to self-represented litigants.

Internet Technologies

By accessing the Internet, self-represented litigants can download forms, access court records online, and locate research websites. Many courts allow e-filing of pleadings and legal documents.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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