Do-it-yourself divorce cases flood Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Help Center

CLEVELAND - After just four weeks in existence, the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court Help Center has been flooded with more than 700 applicants hoping to represent themselves in their divorce cases.

The number of people choosing to represent themselves for financial or personal reasons has grown significantly in recent years.

In 2016, more than 60 percent of the cases filed in Domestic Relations Court were by applicants who did not have attorneys, an increase of over 10 percent from 2015.

But with the rise in pro se representation, has also come a rise in errors.

“Along the way, they make a lot of mistakes,” explained Judge Rosemary Grdina Gold of the Domestic Relations Division of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court,  “And then they come to court to get a hearing and think they’re going to get divorced.”

But Judge Gold explained that these applicants often miss vital steps, delaying their divorces.

“I’ve had people break down at the bench crying,” Judge Gold said. “I need to get divorced today. I thought I was getting divorced.”

It’s a problem that not only puts strain on the applicants filing for divorce, but also the court docket.

It’s an issue that finally found a solution late last month with the opening of the Domestic Relations Court Help Center.

The center is designed to provide answers about court filings and to help applicants navigate the court process more easily.

In just the first four weeks, staff members have helped more than 738 people file their cases.

“Unfortunately, many can’t afford an attorney but they still deserve that access to justice to have their divorce granted,” explained Anjanette Whitman, Manager of the Domestic Relations Court Help Center.

The Center also provides computer workstations for attorneys and parties, notary services for domestic relations court filings, pre-approval of judgment entries for self-represented parties and translation services.

The court staff cannot provide legal advice.

Judge Gold said her court is already starting to see the impact of the center’s opening.

“The fact that I’m being told that my staff is ordering more folders and more forms tells me that were doing exactly what we set out to do,” Gold said. 

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