Resolution Management Conferences

After Discovery- 

 

After your initial filings and while you are conducting your discovery and disclosures, you will be set for prehearing conferences. Prehearing conferences, for the purposes of this section, are any court ordered judicial or quasi-judicial Proceedings before your final evidentiary hearing or trial.
Their purpose is to determine the outstanding issues, lock in any settlements, and determine what, if any, assistance the court or the parties need in order to either reach an agreement or have a trial on the merits of the case.

 

Prehearing conferences set the tone for the case and determine many of the resources that will be used. We will also discuss any of the court-appointed advisers, or other court appointed experts that may be used in any given case.

 

Prehearing conferences consist of:

  • Resolution management conferences
  • Early resolution conferences
  • Return hearings
  • Status conferences
  • Open negotiations
  • Temporary orders hearings

 

 

Resolution management conference

A resolution management conference, or RMC, is set by the court in virtually every initial case. The RMC is a non-evidentiary hearing, which means that the judge should not look at exhibits or hear testimony, nor should they make rulings on any issues. This takes place in the judge’s assigned courtroom. At the RMC, you and the opposing party will go before you’re assigned Judge and present your positions on all of the outstanding issues. You will file an RMC statement before the scheduled RMC and provide a copy to the opposing party. This statement is to be completed without argument and without emotion if possible. With that being said this is your first Time in front of the judge and you will want to make a good first impression. Your RMC statement might say something like:

 

“Legal Decision Making: Mother should be awarded sole legal decision-making because Father has been convicted of selling narcotics and domestic violence including the assault.”

 

You should add enough to back up your position, but nothing more and without a graphic description.

 

The RMC will be set for 30 minutes in front of your assigned judge. The judge will have read both of your RMC statements and will likely state whether or not there are issues that you both agree upon. For instance if both parties have stated that they would like joint legal decision-making, the judge will most likely ask the two of you to stand, raise your right hand, and put your agreement on the record. When you do this you are entering a “rule 69 agreement.” It is binding and issue will never come up again. It is also possible that the two of you will enter into temporary agreements. That could be a temporary agreement that Father will continue to pay the mortgage and the car payment and Mother will continue to pay all of the utilities and the cell phone.

 

If there are no agreements to be reached the judge will either:

1) Set a final evidentiary hearing date.

2) Send the parties to a parenting conference or mediation.

3) Apoint a third party to offer the court evidence on a specific outstanding issue.

 

If you would like the intervention of a third party, because you are asking for drug testing or a psychological evaluation, the RMC statement is a great place to make the judge aware of your request. The judge may order what you’re asking for or may request that you file a motion asking the court for ruling on your request.

 

Sometimes judges set and RMC on temporary orders. This is very confusing. It means that the judgment may or may not take evidence on any temporary orders request and may or may not enter orders regarding temporary issues. Sometimes a judge will have an RMC on temporary orders only to set a temporary orders hearing at a later date. If this happens, call the JA, or judicial assistant, and see if you can find out whether or not the judge would like to take evidence at the RMC. If you cannot find out in advance, be prepared for either possibility.

 

Early resolution conference (ERC)

An early resolution conference maybe set instead of, or in addition to, an RMC. An early resolution conference is only set if one or both parties are unrepresented buy attorneys. It will not be scheduled if two attorneys are on the case.

 

The ERC takes place at the courthouse but not in a court room. It is scheduled for three hours and is facilitated by a mediator, not a judge. The mediator cannot make rulings, even if they want to. Temporary orders for final agreements will only be locked down if both parties agree. If you have been scheduled for an ERC, consider bringing an attorney with you. The combination of a law trained mediator and an attorney has been very successful in the past walking down favorable agreements.

 

Unlike an RMC, where you do not need to bring or present evidence, you will want to bring all of your evidence to the ERC. If you can show the other party and the mediator the extent of your assets, income, and debts, it becomes much easier to persuade the opposing party to agree to your position.

 

If you do come to agreements, the mediator will draft those agreements, get each of your signatures, and take the agreement to a judge to be signed that day. It is possible to complete your entire case at the ERC.

 

Status Conference

 

A status conference is usually set by the judge at the RMC to take place following a certain event. For instance, if the judge sends two parents to mediation on a certain date, it isn’t unusual for the judge to set a status conference for the following week. I judge may avoid scheduling A final evidentiary hearing until after both a mediation and a status conference have taken place. A status conference can either be telephonic or in person, and is usually set for 15 minutes. The purpose is simply to update the court on any progress that has been made or changes that have taken place and to decide the next step.

 

Return Hearings

Another prehearing conference that you may come across is a return hearing. A return hearing is sometimes set instead of an RMC in a post-decree, or modification case. There is no need to file any documents prior to the return hearing, although you may want to prepare some notes for yourself. The return hearing is a hybrid between the RMC and the status conference. It is not quite as informal as a status conference, nor is it as formal as an RMC. It usually takes place in a courtroom and is not typically conducted telephonically.

 

Open Negotiations

Opening negotiations are a new type of prehearing conference that takes place instead of the RMC. Attorneys are not allowed to attend open negotiations, where a Judge may ask questions of both parties to tease out positions and try to guide the parties to some agreements. If the Open Negotiation is unsuccessful, the Judge will simply proceed with the case as he/she would following an RMC.

 

Temporary Orders Hearings

Temporary orders hearings are only set if one of the parties files a motion for temporary orders. Even then, a hearing may not be set until after an RMC. It can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days to get in front of the judge for a temporary orders hearing. This hearing is unlike the others that we have discussed, because it is an evidentiary area hearing. That means the judge will take testimony, exhibits, and make rulings on the outstanding temporary issues.

To prepare for a temporary orders hearing, you need to gather evidence that supports your position and prepare your testimony. This topic is covered more in the last chapter and in the chapter on preparing for trial.

 

A temporary orders hearing is usually scheduled for 30 minutes or 60 minutes so there is rarely time for any additional witnesses. The petitioner will present evidence first. The respondent will have the ability to cross-examine any witnesses called by the petitioner. Then the respondent will present their own case, and the petitioner we’ll cross-examine any witnesses called by the respondent. Sometimes the judge will rule “from the bench,” which means the Judge will deliver the verdict immediately and orally. More common however, is that the Judge will take the matter “under advisement.” This means the ruling will be issued within 30 days in writing in what is called a minute entry.

 

A temporary order will give you an idea of how the judge is leaning on any given issue. It can be a trial run and could make you better prepared for a final evidentiary area hearing.

 

 

Court appointed intervention after the initial filing but before the final evidentiary hearing could include:

 

  • Parenting conferences
  • A psychological evaluation
  • A comprehensive family evaluation/ assessment
  • For a limited family evaluation/Assessment
  • Reunification therapy
  • Court appointed adviser

 

 

Parenting conferences

 

A Parenting conference is frequently scheduled when you have two good parents who don’t agree on a parenting plan four there are concerns regarding parental fitness or addiction issues. Typically the judge will order the parents to attend a parent conference at RMC. You will receive an order identifying the parenting conference provider and you will have 10 days in order to contact the provider and arrange the first appointment. The parenting conference costs each party $300. The parent conference provider will review any collateral information that you have about the other party like emails, police reports, CPS reports, etc. The provider may even speak with third party witnesses.

 

A meeting is then scheduled for the parents, and the children if they are old enough, to speak with the provider. The conference provider acts like a cross between a mediator and an expert witness. The meeting is non-confidential and the provider will create a report for the court’s review. The Parents are encouraged to come to agreements, which are written down by the provider and treated like a Rule 69 agreement. For many children, this is their opportunity to be heard on any opinions regarding what living arrangement they would like.

 

After the provider has reviewed the information, spoken with witnesses, and met with the parties and children, they will provide a written report to the parties and court. This can take up to 60 days. The report can contain any concerns they have about either parent or the children. Sometimes the provider will point out an initiative the parents aren’t even thinking about like a child’s eating habits, or school attendance issues. Sometimes the parenting conference provider will recommend a psychological evaluation for either mother or father, or they may recommend alcohol or drug testing.

 

The judge will certainly read the report and rely on information within it. Probably 75% of the time judges adopt the recommendations and findings of the parenting conference provider. With that being said, you can use the reports to craft a settlement agreement or change your strategy moving forward in court.

 

Comprehensive Family assessment/ comprehensive evaluation

 

A Comprehensive family assessment or a comprehensive evaluation can be ordered for many different reasons. Most often when a Judge suspects domestic violence, substance abuse, serious mental illness, or child abuse; or when the issues are so complex that the judge simply needs much more information.

 

Comprehensive evaluation usually lasts between two and six months and is very expensive, sometimes costing up to $10,000. The evaluations are conducted by a psychologist or psychologist that has been qualified and approved and Can be found on the Maricopa county court roster. On the roster you will find providers locations, prices and credentials.

 

Comprehensive assessment usually include mental health testing for both parties. It may also include diagnoses. There is typically a in-depth analysis of all allegations made.

 

The results of these assessments are provided to the parties, attorneys if they have them, and to judges. They can be between 20 and 60 pages. One interesting thing to note, is that the recommendation in the evaluation may not be legally sound, since the providers are not typically attorneys. If you received the results of an evaluation and you think they are wrong, consider consulting with an attorney in order to find out the legal basis for the recommendations.

 

Limited family assessment

 

Unlimited family assessment is similar to the comprehensive one, just more limited nature. This is more appropriate when there are fewer issues and a host of mental testing is not necessary or warranted. These evaluations are typically focused on specific issues like where a gifted child should attend school or whether a parent should be allowed to move away with the child.

 

Therapeutic intervention

 

Therapeutic interventions are appropriate when there is a pressing crisis within the family. Emergency case stabilization might be ordered add an emergency hearing before temporary orders are issued. A typical case might be where, amidst the contentious custody case, one or both parents are on drugs, teenagers may be using drugs or failing at school, and there maybe allegations of domestic violence.

 

The goal of the emergency case stabilization is to get a plan in place to stabilize the children and parents while they get further treatment and more investigation is conducted.

 

Therapeutic reunification

 

Therapeutic reunification therapy is typically ordered when one parent has been missing for a long time or estrangement between the parent and child has happened for other reasons. The purpose is for the therapist to assist the parent and the child in re-establishing a relationship.

 

This would also be appropriate in cases where the relationship is severely damaged for other reasons. If the parent has a exposed the child to domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse or neglect then it is possible you would need reunification therapy even without a prolonged absence of one parent.

 

Why would I want to use a parenting coordinator?

Are you in a high conflict case involving children? Do you and your ex fight about every exchange or extracurricular activity? Do you feel the other parent is constantly trying to undermine your every move? Does your ex violate the court ordered parenting plan constantly? If so, you may want to consider requesting a parenting coordinator.

The statutes allow for the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator if:

  1. the parents are persistently in conflict with one another;
  2. there is a history of substance abuse by either parent or family violence;
  3. there are serious concerns about the mental health or behavior of either parent;
  4. a child has special needs; or
  5. it would otherwise be in the children’s best interests to do so.

 

A parenting coordinator (PC) is a court appointed third party who is given quasi-judicial authority and remains involved after the court has entered either an initial order or a modification/order of contempt on your current case. Maricopa County has a roster of different available parenting coordinators. If you check out the list, you will see that there are a wide variety of backgrounds, training and styles that a parenting coordinator may have.

In order to get on the list, a person must be a psychiatrist, psychologist, behavioral therapist, nurse or nurse practitioner or an attorney. In addition to the licensure required above they must have received at least six hours of both domestic violence and child abuse training and receive ongoing training in these areas. Additionally, each PC must receive additional forensic training on issues like child development, alienation of children, relocation issues, high conflict families, impact of high conflict on children, adults, and families, report writing, family court law, cultural diversity, interviewing and assessment skills, role boundaries, informed consent, mandated reporting of abuse, and testimonial issues.

Since each PC brings a unique background, it is important to determine your needs and your particular situation prior to selecting a PC.

 

How do I get a Parenting Coordinator?

You can request the court appoint a parenting coordinator. You and your ex can stipulate to a specific parenting coordinator or if there are two attorneys on a case, they can work together to select a parenting coordinator who is a good fit for your issues. The Maricopa County Superior court roster will show you where the providers are physically located on a map and how much they cost.

How much do Parenting Coordinators Cost and who pays for them?

PCs typically charge anywhere between $200 and $400 per hour and are paid for by the parties either equally or in some proportion to their incomes. While this is expensive, it is usually less expensive and more effective than both people paying attorneys. It is also faster than waiting for a Judge to weigh in on your specific issue.

Here is the complete text of Rule 74 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure that provides all of the details surrounding PCs.

Determination of Need for Parenting Coordinator and Appointment. Prior to, simultaneously with, or after entry of a decree, judgment, or custody or parenting time order, at the request of either party or on the court’s own motion, the court may appoint a Parenting Coordinator in any proceeding under Title 25, A.R.S., involving children if it finds any of the following:

  1. the parents are persistently in conflict with one another;
  2. there is a history of substance abuse by either parent or family violence;
  3. there are serious concerns about the mental health or behavior of either parent;
  4. a child has special needs; or
  5. it would otherwise be in the children’s best interests to do so.

Parents may agree to use a Parenting Coordinator and agree to a specific person, subject to approval by the court, or the court may make the choice of the person to serve as the Parenting Coordinator.

Persons Who May Serve as Parenting Coordinators. A Parenting Coordinator may be an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Arizona; a psychiatrist who is licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy in Arizona; a psychologist who is licensed to practice psychology in Arizona; a person who is licensed by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners as a social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, or substance abuse counselor; any other Arizona licensed or certified professional with education, experience, and special expertise regarding the particular issues referred; or professional staff of conciliation services. The court may prescribe additional requirements for service as Parenting Coordinator.

Term of Service. The term of the Parenting Coordinator will be designated in the Order of Appointment. The Parenting Coordinator may resign upon notice to the parties and order of the court. Absent an order of the court, one or both parties cannot discharge the Parenting Coordinator. Complaints about the Parenting Coordinator shall be addressed in the manner specified in the Order of Appointment. If such complaints remain unresolved after following the procedures specified in the order, a motion may be filed with the court requesting removal of the Parenting Coordinator. The court may terminate the service of the Parenting Coordinator at any time upon finding that there is no longer a need for the assistance of the Parenting Coordinator.

Fees. The court will determine the allocation of fees between the parties. The court may order that the parents pay the Parenting Coordinator a retainer before the Parenting Coordinator begins work with a family. The Parenting Coordinator may recommend to the court an adjustment in the division of payment under special circumstances.

Powers and Scope of Appointment. The court order appointing the Parenting Coordinator shall specify the scope of the appointment. The scope may include assisting with implementation of court orders, making recommendations to the court regarding implementation, clarification, modification, and enforcement of any temporary or permanent custody or parenting time order, and making recommendations on the day-to-day issues experienced by the parties. By way of example only, these issues include disagreements around exchanges, holiday scheduling, discipline, health issues, school and extracurricular activities, and managing problematic behaviors by the parents or child(ren). The Parenting Coordinator shall not have the authority to make a recommendation affecting child support, a change of custody, or a substantial change in parenting time. In the event the Parenting Coordinator determines parenting or family issues or circumstances exist that are significantly detrimental to the welfare of the child(ren) and that a change in custody or a substantial change in parenting time is warranted, the Parenting Coordinator may submit the Parenting Coordinator’s concerns in writing to the parties and the court. Counsel are not permitted to attend parenting coordinator meetings unless agreed to by the parties and the parenting coordinator, or ordered by Court.
Additional Authority of Parenting Coordinator. The Parenting Coordinator may interview all members of the immediate and extended family or household of both parties and the children. To the extent provided in the Order of Appointment, the Parenting Coordinator may interview and request information from any persons who the Parenting Coordinator deems to have relevant information, including doctors, therapists, schools, or other caretakers. The Parenting Coordinator may recommend that the court order the parties or children to participate in ancillary services, to be provided by the court or third parties, including but not limited to physical or psychological examinations or assessments, counseling, and alcohol or drug monitoring and testing. The court shall allocate between the parties the cost of any ancillary services ordered.

Time Sensitive Issue Authority and Procedure. When a short-term, emerging, and time sensitive situation or dispute within the scope of authority of the Parenting Coordinator arises that requires an immediate decision for the welfare of the children and parties, a Parenting Coordinator may make a binding temporary decision. This interim decision shall be made without prejudice and shall not be regarded as precedent as to any future action or procedure for any other dispute. The decision shall be submitted to the assigned judge with a copy to the parties (or counsel, if represented) in a written report that shall document all substantive issues addressed and the basis for the decision for review and entry of any appropriate orders at the judge’s earliest opportunity. Thereafter, the procedures set forth in paragraph H shall apply.

Report. Recommendations by the Parenting Coordinator shall be made or confirmed to the court and parties in a form substantially similar to Form 9, Parenting Coordinator’s Report and Recommendation, which shall be submitted no later than five (5) days after an oral determination or receipt of all information necessary to make a recommendation. A copy of the report will be mailed or transmitted to the parties or their counsel on the date of submission. The report may be transmitted by fax or email to the parties at a fax number or email address provided by the parties to the Parenting Coordinator.

Objection. A party who objects shall clearly state in writing the objection to the recommendation, the basis for the objection, a proposed solution, and whether a hearing is requested. The judicial officer shall set a hearing if requested. If no hearing is requested, the judicial officer may rule on the objection without further hearing. By agreement of the parties or order of the court, the recommendations of the Parenting Coordinator will remain in effect during this objection period and process unless and until it is affected by a further order of the court.

Court Action. The court, upon receipt of a report and recommendation from a Parenting Coordinator, may: (1) approve the recommendation and adopt it as an interim order of the court, subject to either party objecting or requesting a hearing not later than 10 days after the date of filing of the court’s order; (2) modify the recommendation and adopt the modified recommendation as an interim order of the court, subject to either party objecting or requesting a hearing not later than 10 days after the date of filing of the court’s order; (3) reject the recommendation report in whole or in part and affirm the current order, subject to either party objecting or requesting a hearing not later than 10 days after the date of filing of the court’s order; or (4) set a hearing on the assigned judicial officer’s calendar. The court may use Form 10, Order Regarding Parenting Coordinator’s Report and Recommendations, for purposes of this paragraph.

Immunity. The Parenting Coordinator has immunity in accordance with Arizona law as to all acts undertaken pursuant to and consistent with the appointment order of the court.

Applicability. No county is required to employ or utilize Parenting Coordinators; however, in the event a county elects to use Parenting Coordinators, these rules shall apply.

Divorcing with Kids – and Without an Attorney

Guest Post By: Leza Biankin

There’s not a person I know who gets married only to think that one day the Happily Ever After will end in divorce. It’s just not something one considers while writing out the guest list or trying on that one-of-a-kind dream wedding dress. Then you’re a puddle of tears and wondering what went wrong, and the D-word enters your mind.

I’ve had two marriages fail. The first one produced two children; the second was a blended family, which added three girls to my two boys. Almost a Brady Bunch. Divorcing without an attorney when there are no children to consider is much smoother – it’s just a matter of separating what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours. Divorcing with kids and without an attorney is complicated on so many levels, though I am glad we did it the way we did.

Below, I share with you advice and anecdotes that helped me and my family through the divorce experience.

Court-Ordered Parenting Classes

One minute, you’re considering divorce. The next thing you know, you’re sitting in a court-ordered parenting class listening to the instructor, whose job it is to somehow teach parents how best to go about this process. This class is mandatory in Arizona when you’re divorcing and have children.

I remember the instructor saying that by the time you file for divorce, you’ve been thinking about getting a divorce for approximately half the time you were married. True, by the way, in my case.

The other thing I recall from that class was being advised to make sure the needs of my children came first. Whoa. It was a sobering thought. My children were young, just about three and six when it all went down. Among the sadness of the failure of the union, keeping the well-being of my kids front and center was by far best thing to do.

Tips for an Amicable Divorce

  • Consider saving thousands of dollars by doing it yourself.
  • While you’re in the middle of the process, think about why you loved the person in the first place.
  • No matter what, don’t badmouth your soon-to-be-ex, now or later.
  • Remember that both sides have a part in the reason the marriage failed.
  • Remind your children frequently how much you love them.
  • Tell your children that both of you love them and that the split is not their fault.
  • Ease the transition to two households by encouraging holidays at both places.

Legal Assistance

We both agreed that we were reasonable and amicable enough to complete our divorce without attorneys. With my ex taking the lead, we decided to use a reputable Legal Document Preparer to help us with the paperwork. All we had to do was figure out who got what from our time together.

For the most part, we were able to divide those items accumulated over time. I won’t lie. It was an emotional roller coaster, however, keeping the children in mind, we got through it. We separated what was mine and what was pre-marriage. The rest we divided based on what we thought was an equitable division dollar-wise.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is always a risk for children when they are separated (even part time) from someone they’re close to, such as a parent after divorce. This was something my ex and I wanted to work together to avoid.

Keeping our kids in mind, we shopped for apartments for him, together. While the sale of the house was in process, we had our holidays together – he cooked the turkey at his apartment. Our boys, whose birthdays both fall in December, were celebrated at his new place that was located by good schools, at my request. Christmas was a blur, then came Easter with an Egg Hunt at his place. By then, I had my own house, and we were able to continue to keep our split amicable.

I believe we did a decent job of keeping the separation anxiety at a minimum by focusing on the needs of our children, remaining as positive as possible, and reminding the kids how much they were loved.

About the Author:

Leza Biankin is an author, mother, Realtor® and the founder of Brown Bag Buddies, a non-profit organization. In short, she’s a lady with a lot to say. After the Aussie-raised, Arizona transplant’s second divorce, she returned to the dating world and found it too juicy not to write about. Her book, Dear Spicy_Red42, exposes the always interesting, never predictable and sometimes hilarious escapades of online dating.
Visit Leza’s website here or follow her on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

 

My Divorce is Finalized, Can I Modify Anything?

My Divorce is Finalized, Can I Modify Anything?

Getting that final divorce decree can result in a wide variety of emotions including relief, sadness, frustration, confusion or regret. If you entered into an agreement, you may wonder if you would have been better off going to trial. If the judge issued a decision, you may think he or she got it horribly wrong. Perhaps you have found new evidence or your situation has changed since the entry of the decree.

Whether you have just received the decree or it has been several years, there are parts of your divorce decree you can change. This article will discuss what you can modify and what you cannot.

1. Property Division

Normally, property division cannot be changed. The exception to the rule depends of whether you have just found newly discovered properties that were not included in the divorce or properties that were discussed in the hearing were not divided in the original decree. If you want to change the division of property, you will need to contact an attorney immediately. Time is of the essence, and remember the general rule is that property division cannot be divided.

2. Child Support

Child support can be modified whenever there is a change in circumstances that would affect the child support amount by more than 15%. You could be entitled to a change in child support if life circumstances change, such as:

  • Income
  • Your ex’s income
  • Health insurance costs
  • Child care costs
  • How many other children you have
  • Parenting time
  • Extraordinary expenses

Something else to keep in mind is that the child support guidelines change every three years or so. In fact, the Arizona child support guidelines are scheduled to change in July 2015. Make sure to consult an attorney or contact the certified legal documents preparer (CLDP) at Access Legal to determine whether you are eligible for a change in child support and what that change would mean for you and your children.

3. Legal Decision Making and Parenting Time

You can seek a modification of legal decision making and parenting time by filing a petition to modify anytime 12 months after the entry of the last parenting time order, or six months after the entry of the last order if your ex is not exercising the parenting plan according to the decree or parenting plan. If you would like to make a change sooner, you may be able to seek a clarification of the existing plan for items that you would like in the plan that have been left off.

  • Other alternatives to modifying legal decision making and parenting time include seeking a specific ruling on an issue that you and your ex do not agree about, or seeking a parenting coordinator if there is ongoing conflict.

4. Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance or alimony may or may not be modifiable depending on the original decree. Many times, an agreement entered into by the parties may be non-modifiable and an order entered by a judge is modifiable under the statute. Under the statute, a change in circumstances for either the payor or the recipient can trigger the possibility of modifying your spousal maintenance. The person seeking the modification has the burden of proof for showing that the modification is necessary.

5. Other Terms

Other pieces of the decree, like a finding of waste or value of a business is not “modifiable” but may be appealable. To seek an appeal, you should consult with an attorney, who can either help you appeal the decision or get you instructions on how to appeal the decree yourself.

 

A final decree is rarely the last step in your family law journey. If you have young children, it is almost certain that parenting time and child support will be modified at some point. The thought of modifying the decree may be overwhelming and daunting. For specific assistance with your modification, contact us today.

We Want You! Access Legal is Hiring

We Want You!

Job Title: Arizona Certified Legal Document Preparer

Access Legal is a legal software company dedicated to increasing access to justice for self represented litigants in Maricopa County. Access Legal is a certified legal document preparation entity and is looking for a licensed CDLP who is interested in working in a fast paced, dynamic and growing industry.

The legal tech space is an exciting industry to be a part of. As a CDLP for Access Legal, you will have the opportunity to become a part of a team of entrepreneurs and innovators and make a meaningful difference in the lives of families every day.

As a start-up, Access Legal has room for individuals with outstanding skills including customer service, writing, community relations, public speaking, management, computer and document coding and more. Bring your talents to the Access Legal Team for an opportunity to grow with a company within Arizona and beyond.

Experience with Maricopa County Family Law is an absolute must. Outstanding communication skills and people skills are essential. Flexible hours are available.

Compensation is commensurate with experience and skills.

Please send a resume and cover letter to us at info@accesslegaldocs.com

Getting a Divorce Without an Attorney

Getting a Divorce Without an Attorney

Getting a Divorce Without an Attorney, you are not alone. It’s happening everywhere. The vast majority of Americans are trying to get justice from a system designed for lawyers. Yet, even for the middle class, justice is too expensive. Though poor litigants (people involved in the court system) often qualify for legal aid programs, middle class is denied access to these but still can’t afford the thousands of dollars legal representation often costs.

For this reason, more litigants – often savvy, educated consumers – are choosing to represent themselves in family court. Though some will experience success, others will make small mistakes that end up costing them thousand or, worse, costing them the result they needed from the courts. Access Legal is one of the first tools that helps family court litigants access to the professional documents they need to represent themselves with successful outcomes.

In addition to creating tools to help the middle class represent themselves in family court, how do we bridge the gap between high priced attorneys and the complexity of self-representation? Julie Kay’s article Middle Class is Getting Squeezed Out of the Courts. So What is Being Done About It?published on the Daily Business Review discusses the middle class’s limited access to justice, and we feature that article below for you. You may also read the original here.

The article was written after a panel of experts including Supreme Court Chief Justices and a District Judge found that more and more poor and middle-class litigants in Florida are showing up to court without attorney representation. A video of the panel, The Importance of Access to Justice to the Judiciary, is here.

Middle Class is Getting Squeezed Out of the Courts. So What is Being Done About It?

Poor and middle-class litigants in Florida are increasingly showing up to court without lawyers, resulting in a significant access-to-justice problem throughout the state.

That was the consensus of a panel on “The Importance of Access to Justice to the Judiciary” held Friday at the University of Miami School of Law. The panel was part of a Legal Services Corporation half-day seminar.

Panelists included Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga; U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami; Richard Leefe of Leefe, Gibbs, Sullivan & Dupre in Louisiana; Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice Liana Fiol Matta; and William Van Norwick Jr., a retired judge from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. The panel was moderated by Harvard law dean Martha Minow.

Cooke and other panelists said they are more concerned about the “working middle class” who are not eligible for legal aid programs like the poor.

“I have seen a lot of working middle class litigants in court without attorneys,” she said. “Where they might have had a neighborhood attorney representing them before, now they are in court alone. Somewhere the wheels have fallen off the bus for the working middle class.”

Labarga saw the same thing during his 15 years as a Palm Beach trial court judge, particularly in foreclosure cases.

“Every other case had one unrepresented party,” he said. “Today, it must be even more. There is nothing more heartbreaking than to have a foreclosure case, and the bank’s lawyer comes in all polished, well-dressed, and he knows exactly what to do, and you see a husband and wife all by themselves with a file. As a judge, you can’t say, ‘This is what you have to do so I can rule in your favor,’ but you want to.”

Labarga noted the New York Bar requires law school graduates to perform 50 hours of pro bono work before they are admitted to the bar and California allows nonlawyers to help litigants. “Here in Florida I’d get pushback from the Bar for trying that,” he said.

The governor has not been supportive, vetoing extra legal aid funding every year, panelists noted.

Legal forums and advice columns are helpful in simple situations—but not with complex foreclosure cases, noted Van Nortwick.

“We need more money to hire lawyers for the poor and middle class. That’s the sad problem,” he said.

Labarga called on “mega law firms” with hundreds of attorneys to “kick in and help out.”

Some programs exist but are not well-publicized. Cooke asked the audience how many knew lawyers who could volunteer for pro bono cases on the federal court’s website.

Cooke called on her fellow judges to be more flexible when dealing with pro bono lawyers, while Labarga encouraged them to simply thank lawyers handling such cases.

“I always did that,” he said. “It goes a long way.”

Labarga is hoping the situation will improve now that he launched the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, which met for the first time this month. The major initiative of his two-year administration, the commission will study the unmet civil legal needs of disadvantaged, low-income and moderate-income Floridians.

The commission includes Gov. Rick Scott, members of the Florida House, law school deans, former American Bar Association president Martha Barnett and general counsel of Publix and Disney.

Having lawyers for two of Florida’s largest employers on board is important because they understand the difficulties of having their employees sidetracked by legal problems, Labarga said.

“I’m going to push this as hard as I can,” he said.

The situation is better in other states with so-called low bono programs to help middle class litigants, Minow said.

In Louisiana, several groundbreaking initiatives have made that state a leader in providing access to justice to all. One program seeks to mirror medical residencies, pairing recent law graduates with one-year internships representing indigent clients for a $36,000 salary. The program has been so popular that the unemployment rate for new lawyers, once 47 percent, is now non-existent. The only ones who aren’t fans of the program are some law firms that fear losing top job candidates, Leefe said.

“We think it’s a win-win,” he said. “We’ve had a great response from students.”

Additionally, Louisiana has kiosks staffed by volunteer lawyers at every courthouse and library in the state. These pro bono lawyers provide information and forms—but not legal advice—to litigants who lack lawyers.

LSC is the nation’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. The organization has a budget of $365 million and dispensed about $20 million in grants last year to Florida legal aid programs, including two in South Florida.

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