SC Supreme Court News: Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet

Earlier today the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued an Order with Revisions to the Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet based upon suggestions from the legal community to the SC Access to Justice Commission.

Changes include:

  1. Addition of a sample script for the Plaintiff;
  2. Paragraphs 1 and 2 have been added to Page 1 so the parties can provide the county and state of their residency;
  3. Paragraph 3 of Page 1 has been added so the parties can provide the county and state where they last shared a residence;
  4. Paragraph 4 has been revised to allow the Plaintiff to select the length of time the parties have lived in South Carolina; and
  5. The statement “If no name change is requested, please leave blank” is added at the end of Paragraph B on page 3.
The instructions for completing the Simple Divorce Packet have been revised to reflect these changes.


It’s official – Poster and FAQs online – en español

Good News!  ¡Buenas noticias!

The South Carolina Courts’ Self-Help Page now offers FAQs (General Questions, Circuit Court and Family Court) and an explanation about what court staff can and cannot in Spanish!

And many thanks to student volunteers with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program and the kind folks at HABLA!


Extra Extra: Supreme Court of SC approves Self-Help Center Pilot


Earlier today, South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal announced a pilot program for a Self-Help Center for Self-Represented Litigants in Newberry County.

At the end of the 2-year pilot program, the SC Access to Justice Commission will provide a report detailing the program’s effectiveness and making recommendations for further action.

Stay tuned!


12/10/09: The Honorable Richard C. Collins

Earlier today, I mentioned that last Thursday, I attended and spoke at the Lexington County Bar’s Annual Conference. Among the presenters were The Honorable James O. Spence, Master-in-Equity; Desa Ballard, Private Attorney; The Honorable Richard C. Collins, Magistrate;  The Honorable Daniel R. Eckstrom, Probate Court; and me.

This post will cover Judge Collins’ portion of the presentation.

Judge Collins is a Magistrate in Lexington County (Oak Grove); he is also an attorney. Even more exciting – he had only 24 hours to prepare for the presentation. Unfortunately the scheduled speaker had an unexpected conflict. But he had done his homework.

His advice?

First, RESPECT. Attorneys need to remember that they are officers of the court. They need to listen to self-represented litigants (SRLs). Really listen. Without interruption. They need to RESPECT SRLs. Sure, make objections for the record, but not over and over. SRLs want to be heard. They want their day in court. Let them say what they need to say without interruption!

Second, this is likely the most important day for the SRL. While judges and attorneys hear similar stories, the difference each day is the person involved. And to that person, this is a hugely important day. Have PATIENCE. Judges – explain the procedure, what’s happening. Attorneys – show them respect and let them speak. And let the Judge explain what’s happening without interrupting.

Good advice Judge Collins!


Change can appear Radical

At 11:59 p.m. Monday the comment period for the South Carolina SRL Simple Divorce Packet drew to a close.  The final comment slid in right under the deadline – at 11:53 p.m.

From the initial response when the packet was posted, I have to admit I expected a lot more response than the 16 comments from 14 people. The comment period was officially open from April 2, 2009 until June 1, 2009.

Thank you very much to the people who did respond. Most of the comments were insightful and helpful and the Commission will review the information and in some cases, may implement some of the suggested changes.

And thanks to those of you who express doubt about the effectiveness of these documents. You may not believe me, but your comments were and are welcome.

As with most any area within the practice of law, the process of developing these forms (and the others to come) is not an easy task. Law is gray. There are rarely easy answers.

As attorneys we are trained to analyze and guard our clients against pitfalls. Our letters are carefully crafted. Our court documents must provide sufficient information to make our case. Each word holds specific meaning. Each sentence should be clear and concise. There should be no doubt about the repercussions.

So yes, I am glad you expressed concern about people going into court without our protection. In my perfect world, we would have attorneys available for all who enter our hallowed courtrooms.

But in reality, it’s much different.

  • In reality, many people are losing their jobs, their homes, their lives as they know it.
  • In reality, many people are unable to pay a $50 consultation fee, much less the $450 fee that one of you offered.
  • In reality, many people are unable to pay the $150 filing fee for their divorce.
  • In reality, many people have been entering the courtrooms on their own without attorneys, without having attended one of the many legal clinics offered by South Carolina Legal Services or the South Carolina Bar.
  • In reality, forms are already available online – some for free, some for a price.
  • In reality, videos are already available online to teach people how to file on their own.
  • In reality, people have a right to file on their own, with or without attorneys.

With or without attorneys, really? REALLY!

Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789:

And be it further enacted, That in all courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by assistance of such counsel or attorneys at law as by the rules of the said courts respectively shall be permitted to manage and conduct causes therein. And there shall be appointed in each district a meet person learned in the law to act as attorney for the United States in such district, who shall be sworn or affirmed to the faithful execution of his office, whose duty it shall be to prosecute in such district all delinquents for crimes and offences, cognizable under the authority of the United States, and all civil actions in which the United States shall be concerned, except before the supreme court in the district in which that court shall be holden. And he shall receive as compensation for his services such fees as shall be taxed therefor in the respective courts before which the suits or prosecutions shall be. And there shall also be appointed a meet person, learned in the law, to act as attorney-general for the United States, who shall be sworn or affirmed to a faithful execution of his office; whose duty it shall be to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments, and shall receive such compensation for his services as shall by law be provided. (emphasis added)

The radical move of adding a packet for people to represent themselves in court may not be quite so radical. After all, the concept of appearing pro se or representing oneself is over 200 years old. But it is change. And change is . . . well . . . change, scary, different, not the same, not operating the same as usual.

Thanks again to all who commented. Your input really is of value and very much appreciated.


Friday Wrap 5.29.09

All the week’s “atj” newsworthy items wrapped up

Friday Wrap Friday Wrap

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Recognize Major Contributors to Texas Legal Aid

Chicago, Illinois – ABA Invites Obama to it Annual Meeting

Washington, D.C. – 2nd ABA National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities (Hurry for the EARLY BIRD special because after June 1st the registration increases)

United States Supreme Court – President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (For more news links, click here. For blog coverage, click here.)

Brooklyn, New York – A Call for Pro Bono at Boro Hall

Lexington, Kentucky – Interview with a True Change Agent

Nashville, Tennessee – New Legal Advice Clinic to Help with Debt Issues

Richmond, Virginia – LINC Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

Public Justice Center – Donor Inspires Us with $10,000 Gift 

Ventura County, California – New County Program Helping Low-Income Families Adopt

 Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Practical Paralegalism: Paying it Forward

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Credit Card Reforms Could Help Statements

Fairfield, Connecticut – Hard Times Force People Into Family Court “Solo”

Honolulu, Hawaii – Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher Supports Access to Justice Commission

Australia – Pro Bono Work Good for Law Students

New York, New York – Pro Bono Recruitment Drive

San Diego, California – Law Made Public: Legal Research Class for the Self-Represented Litigant


Photos from the SRL film shoot

Last week I noted that we were in the midst of filming some training videos. Below are some photos from the shoot. Stay tuned for more photos . . .









Congratulations Justice Zelon!


Los Angeles County Bar Association selects Justice

Laurie D. Zelon to receive the Shattuck-Price

Outstanding Attorney Award!

I first heard Justice Zelon speak at Harvard while participating in a Self-Represented Litigant Network training. Then this past autumn, I participated in a small group led by Justice Zelon and she was a featured presenter. And I can understand completely why she was selected for this award.

Congratulations Justice Zelon!



SRL Divorce Packet Approved and ONLINE

EXTRA, EXTRA! Read all about it!

The South Carolina Supreme Court approves Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet.

Click here to view the ORDER and here for the forms.

The packets were created by the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, SC Bar and SC Legal Services; developed with Court Administration and CFS Project; and approved by the Family Court Judges Advisory Committee. 

The packet is also available on the “Self-Help Resources” tab on the SCJD homepage

These forms are FREE and may be downloaded at no cost.


Sanctions Against Self-Represented Litigant

It happened.

In the California case In Re Marriage of Falcone & Fyke (2008 ) 164 Cal.App.4th 814.

While many have considered this blog a virtual cheerleader for Self-Represented Litigants, it is important to note that the SC Access to Justice Commission’s preference is for all individuals, regardless of ability to pay, to have access to and receive competent legal representation in court cases.

SC Access to Justice would prefer that all individuals, regardless of ability to pay, have access to and receive competent legal representation in court cases.

And In Re Marriage of Falcone and Fyke reminds us all that going into the courtroom is a serious undertaking AND that Self-Represented Litigants are held to the same standard as attorneys.

SRLs and Attorneys take heed.

To read the opinion, click here.