A Judges Guide to Divorce: Uncommon Advice from the Bench
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Sarah D. Eldrich, a divorce lawyer in New Haven, was divorced in when she was a year-old student at Quinnipiac University. Eldrich, who worked at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association while she was attending college, knew how to draft the papers for a divorce, but said she was discouraged from doing the divorce herself.
Public Patron's Guide to Family Law
The experience, she recalled in a recent interview, made her feel powerless. Just a year after Ms. Eldrich ended her marriage, divorce in Connecticut changed dramatically, opening the way to more pro se representation. In , the Legislature passed a law allowing no-fault divorces, so a married couple who had decided to break up did not have to prove it was someone's fault. That eliminated the sometimes difficult process of showing that one party had committed adultery or had been intolerably cruel, which were two of the reasons spouses could give for seeking a divorce.
Still, in the early years of no-fault divorces, most people still went to lawyers for help, even for simple cases. A study conducted in two family courts in Connecticut from to and published in the Yale Law Journal found that 2.
Eldrich and others she knew through the New Haven women's movement vowed to change that. They published a book that taught people how to do their own divorces if the cases were simple, believing that it would empower people to get involved directly in the court system. And because women were often the ones to initiate the divorce, they considered the book a way to empower women particularly, said Diane Polan, one of the authors.
That book, "Do Your Own Divorce in Connecticut," was published in and was distributed mainly at women's centers. The authors also taught divorce litigants how to represent themselves and worked with judges to smooth the process. Polan said she never meant for people with complicated divorces to represent themselves. As time went on, other factors played a role in spurring the increase of pro se litigants. Shirley M. Pripstein, who practices family law with Greater Hartford Legal Aid, said federal budget cuts in the mid's sapped agencies that provided free legal service to the poor.
Legal aid lawyers began to concentrate on the most difficult cases, such as those involving domestic abuse. They didn't have time or resources for poor people involved in more-standard divorce cases. Pripstein said. The Judicial Branch also gradually grew more accommodating, creating its own books and manuals on how to represent oneself in a family case. Courthouses began providing mediators to talk people through their cases and attempt to broker a compromise. In New Haven, for instance, Family Court litigants must talk to a family services counselor before their case.
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Public Patron's Guide to Family Law
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