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Write Your Own Family Court Documents

August 31, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Legal Aid of West Virginia is launching an online system designed to let people file their own forms if they want to represent themselves in family court. The system is designed for West Virginia residents who can't afford a lawyer and have a routine, uncontested family court issue.

Legal Aid advises anyone with a case who can afford a lawyer to get one, says staff attorney Bruce Perrone, but the new system gives people the option of computer-generating their own legal forms.

"Something like Turbo-Tax. They're all systems built on software that'll allow you to answer questions without having to understand the law beneath the case, provide the information and generate the documents."

Perrone expects the need for the online service to be great because Legal Aid has to turn away a huge number of West Virginians who need its help and can't afford to hire lawyers.

"There are thousands of people eligible for Legal Aid, but we do not have the resources to help them. They will be able to work through our website and all that information then will be put into a form, ready for filing."

Perrone says the system can generate documents such as uncontested divorce filings, proposed parenting plans and financial-disclosure statements. Some of the most pressing access needs are in the family courts, he says.

"The family court system probably touches more West Virginians than any other part of the system. People can solve all kinds of problems outside of the court, but when you need a divorce, you have to go to the court system."

The system also gives instructions about what to do with the forms and tips on handling a case, Perrone says. The website is lawv.net.

The West Virginia Supreme Court is looking for ways to make the state's legal system more open and accessible. A commission will study the issue through fall.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV