By Mike Stetzer
Recognizing that divorce without any legal advice can often be an even greater challenge for couples already undergoing the difficulties associated with their separation, one Connecticut divorce attorney has begun offering a different divorce option.
Susan Wakefield has practiced divorce and family law for 20 years, and she has recently begun offering couples who cannot afford the price of full representation a "limited scope option." Also known as legal coaching Wakefield offers this service at much lower rates than what attorneys usually charge for services in divorce cases.
"I've been restructuring my practice to offer this service because many people don’t have the money as a result of the economic downturn and are going to court without an attorney," Wakefield says. "I give them the tools they need for self-representation."
Wakefield charges 30% less for legal coaching and does not accompany her clients into the courtroom for this divorce option. Requests for her legal coaching have risen considerably over the past six months, she says. The number of people going alone to divorce court has doubled over the past few years at the same time when Connecticut's Judicial Branch has seen its funding for self-representation cases reduced.
"I'm getting four inquiries a day, whereas six months ago I was getting four a week," she says. She has been in her own practice for eleven years, and feels like the interest in limited scope representation is not likely to decrease any time soon.
"This will not go away because people are hurting financially and hurting economically." She plans to focus as much of her time as possible on legal coaching services.
"This allows me to focus on what I'm passionate about and love to do – work with people one-on-one to see them through at a difficult time."
The Connecticut Judicial Branch’s Public Service and Trust Commission recently released a report on its strategies to offer better services to state taxpayers, and among the planned initiatives were increased assistance for individuals opting to represent themselves.
The number of self-represented parties in the state's court system is anticipated to grow as the economic conditions put more and more people out of work, says Krista Hess, a member of the Public Service and Trust Commission's Committee on Self-Represented Parties.
"It's all about accessibility to the court system, and if the numbers do go up, we’ll be ready for it," she says.
Hess is also the program manager for the Judicial Branch’s Court Service Centers, and she is seeing many individuals who previously held jobs that would have allowed them to hire an attorney are now out of work. While these individuals might not necessarily prefer to represent themselves, Wakefield and Hess plan to support those who are now left with little choice.
While family law cases see the most self-represented parties, one Connecticut judge, Raymond Norko, says that the system will benefit from increased attention on the needs of this group.
"The bottom line is we need more intelligent forms, more understanding and more accessibility."
Source: The Connecticut Post