3 July 2008
New Supreme Court Rules improving access to courts in family matters take effect
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – New Supreme Court Rules designed to help self-represented litigants understand the challenges and procedures to appear before the state courts in family law matters went into effect July 1.
Specifically, Rule 88.09 informs such litigants who are not represented by legal counsel that they must complete a litigant awareness program. This program helps self-represented litigants understand the legal process involved in family matters as well as the risks and responsibilities associated with self-representation. The program is available in the "Representing Yourself" section of the Your Missouri Courts website at www.courts.mo.gov.
Other rules that went into effect focus on self-represented litigants' access to legal assistance on a limited basis. Rules 4-1.2 and 55.03 explain how a lawyer and a self-represented litigant may enter into an agreement for limited-scope representation. This means that litigants representing themselves who need legal assistance on particular aspects of their cases can obtain that assistance from licensed attorneys without the attorneys undertaking the entire representation in the cases.
The Court enacted these rules to afford Missouri citizens' better access to and understanding of the court system. This is part of an effort to make it simpler for self-represented litigants to prepare certain parts of their case and, under the rules, to hire attorneys to represent them in the more complex aspects of their cases to make the whole process more affordable.
The Court is also in the process of reviewing and approving forms for self-represented litigants in domestic relations cases. More complex cases, such as those involving child custody or contested dissolutions, will require additional information and pleadings that may be included in a standardized form.
Once the forms are approved, all self-represented litigants will be required to use them. These forms are designed to help the litigant properly frame the issues and adequately meet the legal requirements of the state courts to help make cases run more smoothly than now, when people use forms they find on the Internet that do not comply with Missouri law. Although not yet approved as "official," the latest versions of these forms are available on Your Missouri Court's website.
Other resources available on the Web site include an online tool consisting of a series of questions to help Missouri citizens assess whether their cases and their individual capabilities make them good candidates for self-representation.