New Family Law Services Offered by VLSP
by Vicki Jacobs
At the Voluntary Legal Services Program, we have conflicting feelings about advertising our new project that benefits low income self-represented litigants. It is called the Family Law Assistance Project (aka “FLAP”) and, with the assistance of Sacramento area family law volunteer attorneys, is providing legal advice and forms assistance to family law litigants in the Sacramento Family Court.
Our conflicting feelings are caused by the knowledge that virtually everyone knows someone going through a divorce, custody, or support dispute, and we expect the referrals to our program for this project, once the word is out, will be substantial. We have hired staff to handle the incoming calls and to screen those callers for eligibility under VLSP’s low income guidelines.
The need for help with family law services is not in dispute. Our goal is to help increase access to the family law courts for those who are self-represented and make it a less intimidating process for them.
As VLSP co-founder, Judge James Mize of the Sacramento Superior Court, states: “Family law is one of the most crucial areas of law where folks need representation and yet 75% of the litigants who appear before us are self-represented. Having VLSP assisting these families will be a godsend to them and will greatly increase the likelihood that justice will be done and that innocent children will have better outcomes. Again, the dedicated and generous family law lawyers of Sacramento are stepping up and giving their time and talent to do right by these families. Good luck VLSP – and may you and your faithful volunteers have many years of successful and fulfilling service to our River City community.”
“Family law is one of the most crucial areas of law where folks need representation and yet 75% of the litigants who appear before us are self-represented.”
Judge James Mize
VLSP has experience providing family law services to the indigent. It has been about a decade, however, since VLSP provided family law services on other than a very limited basis. Long time practitioners will remember that VLSP used to operate a family law clinic at the Meadowview Community Center (now the Sam and Bonnie Pannell Community Center) in conjunction with the Sacramento Superior Court. We also operated a family law clinic at the then-new Family Relations Courthouse at the Family Law Facilitator’s office. These projects were closed due to changes in funding. Fortunately, there is funding again available to VLSP to operate an ongoing family law project.
VLSP’s services through the Family Law Assistance Project are provided by appointment only. Once clients are screened by telephone for eligibility for VLSP services, an appointment is set at VLSP’s office. At that appointment, clients can speak individually with a family law attorney about their situations and, if needed, family law forms will be completed for filing in pro per by the client. Unless a volunteer decides to take a case for full representation, the end of the appointment is the end of the services provided. Volunteers are not expected to handle the case on in their private practices. Clients can call again and receive additional services, if resources allow. There is no ongoing relationship between the client and the volunteer. The client may be helped by a different volunteer each time he or she is seen.
In March, VLSP had its first orientation for new volunteers and we are pleased that 12 family law practitioners attended. Volunteers are requested to provide help at VLSP’s office for 2-3 hours at least once per quarter. Support staff is available to assist.
If you are interested in finding out more about this project, whether as a volunteer or someone who will refer clients to this project, please email Vicki Jacobs, VLSP’s Managing Attorney, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know of low income people who need help in the Sacramento Family Court, please have them call VLSP at (916) 551-2102 to be screened and scheduled for an appointment.