news and new stuff from HALT

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 The newest HALT eJournal (Feb. 26, 2007) has information about two programs that increase access to courts and about its growing Everyday Law Series of brochures.

  1. New videos explain small-claims process Thanks to a $2,200 grant from the (unified, of course) State Bar of Michigan, “Small claims courts became a little easier to navigate for Saginaw residents after the Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee created videotapes to explain the process. The four tapes show how to file a claim, defend against a claim, collect a judgment and what a staged small claims hearing looks like.”  (see The Saginaw News, January 28, 2007)  The tapes are available at all five branches of the Saginaw Public Library.  A small claims clinic is also presented at the County Governmental Center. [Ed. Note: It would be nice if the videos could be available online through the court or Library website.]
  2. graphClimbS Extended Family Court hours in Maricopa County, AZ.  For about a month now, family court in Phoenix, Arizona, has had evening hours Tuesday-Friday until 9 p.m. and Saturday hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (see Superior Court News Release, “Superior Court Announces NIght and Saturday Hours,” Jan. 23, 2007)  “The purpose of moving proceedings into the evening and on weekends, is to provide people who work, attend school and have other demands during the day with a timely and more convenient alternative to resolve their pending cases, without adding undue financial and emotional stress to the parents and children from daytime conflicts,” said Presiding Family Court Judge Norman Davis.   The extended hours will be primarily scheduled only at the request of litigants, unless the court needs to schedule additional matters to better utilize court resources.  A dozen programs will be available for Family Court litigants including: decree on demand; support modification; support enforcement; parenting time enforcement; hearings on orders of assignment; hearings on pending orders of protection; parenting conferences; mediation; early resolution conferences; Self-Service Center; and educational seminars.

HALTBestBuyS  HALT also announced publication of a new Everyday Law Series brochure: Getting Your Credit Report.  If you need money from a lending institution, HALT says “it’s a good idea to get a free copy of your credit report beforehand to make sure it’s accurate and up-to-date.” Getting Your Credit Report, identifies and answers common questions people have about credit reports and how to gain access to them. Besides clicking the above link, you can write to HALT for a free copy.

  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles every American to one free credit report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. As the HALT brochure notes, you can contact Annual Credit Report Request Service
    to receive your free annual credit report. To purchase a copy of your credit report, contact: Equifax: 800-685-1111; Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742); Trans Union: 800-916-8800.
     

          Below the fold, read about two other brochures:  Do-It-Yourself Law Reviews: Taxes (which compares the most popular tax preparation programs) and Filing for an Uncontested Divorce (which introduces you to the process of obtaining an uncontested divorce, and discusses doing so pro se).

TaxDay  Do-It-Yourself Law Reviews: Taxes  Tax preparation software “has become a cheap and easy way to complete and file your tax returns without having to hire a professional,” while offering many features in addition to filling out your form. HALT helps you choose the program that is right for you in this free online brochure, by reviewing “the three most popular tax preparation programs: TurboTax by Intuit, H&R Block’s TaxCut and TaxAct by Second Story.  Here’s a quick summary:

“Of these tools, we believe that TurboTax and TaxCut Deluxe provide the best, most comprehensive assistance to taxpayers in preparing their returns, with TaxAct a close third. Because each program includes slightly different features, you may want to choose your product based on what features you need. TaxAct, for example, is the only product that includes information (and the necessary form) for completing a Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which will be a big help to parents with college-age children or graduate students. TaxCut, the software developed by H&R Block, is the only program that offers free assistance in the event your tax return is audited and TurboTax remains the most user-friendly program and is the most thorough in finding specific deductions. Our full reviews of these products follow.”

Filing for an Uncontested Divorce   handshakeS

In the brochure Filing for an Uncontested Divorce, HALT “introduces you to uncontested divorce and the general process involved in obtaining one.”  A divorce is classified as uncontested when both parties agree on three central issues: 1) their desire to divorce; 2) how they will resolve child custody and support issues; and 3 how they will separate property and pay their debts.  [Click here for a HALT brochure on Child Support and Parenting Issues; it includes a discussion on using mediation to resolve any disputes.]

Here’s what the brochure has to say about self-representation in an uncontested divorce:

Can I represent myself in an uncontested divorce?

Yes you can. If both parties are in complete agreement, there are self-help resources available to help you successfully represent yourself in court. State-specific guides on divorce, court-based self-help centers and self-help Web sites will provide the information, forms and instructions you need. In some states, you can hire an independent paralegal to help you with your divorce. Independent paralegals, also known as legal document assistants (LDAs) and legal document preparers (LDPs) are nonlawyers who, in states like California and Arizona, may lawfully fill out, file, and in other ways prepare legal documents on behalf of pro se litigants. Currently, California and Arizona are pioneering the drive to recognize and regulate the independent paralegal industry in an effort to increase access to justice for their citizens and residents.

graphClimbS While in most cases you can represent yourself without issue, you should consider hiring an attorney if you and your spouse start fighting over property or custody issues, or if there is a history of abuse in your relationship.  [Ed. Note: also consider using a mediator to help resolve the issues; that will often be far less painful than having two lawyers do the fighting.]

What happens if I want to go pro se but my spouse hires a lawyer?

If you are in full agreement with your spouse as to the terms of the divorce, you should be able to remain pro se. However, keep in mind that your spouse’s attorney is ultimately working for your spouse’s best interests—not yours. Most experts recommend that if your spouse hires an attorney, you should at least consult a separate attorney to make sure the agreement is fair. Whether or not you consult an attorney, make sure you fully understand your divorce agreement before signing it.

If you choose to represent yourself, contact the clerk at your divorce court’s office to obtain additional information and the necessary paperwork. Keep in mind, however, that the clerk is not an attorney and cannot help you complete the forms. You can also utilize the self-help books and Web sites listed below.

Should you require more help than the clerk or self-help products can provide, look for an attorney who can coach you through the process on an hourly fee basis [unbundled legal services]. Under this arrangement, the attorney will provide guidance and direction but will not completely take over the case or present it for you.

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