Convivium with J.R.R. Tolkien-An Old Idea Coming of Age
Physicians’ Perspective: Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law-Beats Bush Juggernaut
Nightmares in the American Dream
The Gift of Prophecy-Divination in the Bible
I Say ta-MAY-doe & You Say Tow-MAH-toe-An Unexpectedly Dark Tale
Birth Ecology-Tending the Garden of Birth
The Courage to Heal
Touch Junkie: On Relationship, Creative Touch and Overflow
Divorce, Custody, Support - the Problem of Access to Justice in Family Law
It’s odd that not having a lawyer should equate with not having access to justice. But we have an “access to justice” issue in our family law system. Our less than user-friendly divorce process challenges even the most resourceful of unrepresented litigants. Family law cases comprise the largest category where access is seen as a major problem. As many as 70% of people going to court in Oregon about divorce, custody, child support, parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”), and other family-related issues do not have legal representation. Specifically, in 69% of such cases, one or both of the parties is unrepresented.
The numbers of unrepresented litigants would not be an “access” problem, but for the distinctly user-antagonistic divorce process. In Oregon the simplest uncontested divorce takes seven documents that, needless to say, must contain the right stuff. Add children, a residence, a pension plan, other significant property, or any level of disagreement between the parties on any issue, and the complexity, paperwork, and chances of a foul-up increase.
Although sets of documents are available for completion by the self-represented at local courts and online, my impression is that trying to do it yourself is akin to traveling to a foreign country without your Rick Stevesexcept that you didn’t want to go in the first place, you never watched Globe Trekker: Divorce Court, and no one will interpret for you because unlicensed interpreters are subject to summary execution and licensed ones cost more than the entire budget for your involuntary vacation.
The “access” problem reveals itself in the array of complaints emanating from both inside and outside the courthouse: unrepresented family law litigants expressing frustration and dissatisfaction with the system; family law facilitation programs with too much work and limitations on what they are allowed to do; frustrated judges trying to run their courtrooms and manage their cases with so many laypersons appearing who don’t know court procedure; legal aid programs that cannot begin to serve everyone who cannot afford to hire an attorney. One needn’t be officially “poor” to view the cost of an attorney as prohibitive.
Many great minds are at work fashioning systemic solutions. Perhaps, one day, some clever entrepreneur might introduce “Turbo-Divorce.” In the meantime, there are effective and affordable alternatives to full representation by an attorney.
Mediation By Law-Trained Mediator
Clients from Japan told me that it took one sheet of paper to divorce there. Divorce is complicated here, but if it’s necessary, it can be accomplished in a way that is humane, informed, and affordable.
Lisa Mayfield Stewart is an attorney/mediator and aspiring writer in Salem, Oregon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Site Updated Summer 06