October 2017 • Volume 105 • Number 10 • Page 12
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New court-approved family law, small claims forms will be released soon
The Illinois Supreme Court continues to build its library of court-approved forms, available to pro se litigants and lawyers alike.
Last year, LawPulse covered new statewide forms that the Illinois Supreme Court released to standardize interim fee awards and financial affidavits in divorce matters (http://bit.ly/2y7B5kr). Since then, the supreme court's Access to Justice Commission has been quietly releasing more standardized forms.
The comment period for the latest batch of forms ends in mid-October. After the Commission's drafting subcommittee reviews the comments, the forms will be given one final review and then released to the public.
Seven new draft forms are awaiting approval. They focus on small claims and family law issues common to pro se litigants. The small claims forms address debtor/creditor issues like seeking an exemption to a bank garnishment to access funds and citations to discover assets for use by successful plaintiffs who have obtained a money judgment. These citations can be directed at a debtor, debtor's bank, or a debtor's employer.
On the family law side, a petition for dissolution of marriage when children are involved is available, as is a form judgment and a form child support order. There is also a form to send to a former spouse's employer to have income withheld for support. The draft forms are available at http://bit.ly/2dqZrhn.
Focus on self-represented litigants
Alison Spanner is the forms officer for the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Civil Justice Division. She says it's difficult to estimate when the new forms will be available because the drafting subcommittee reviews "each and every comment received and decides whether the forms or instructions require revisions based on that comment." According to Spanner, the volume of feedback on the forms has been "average so far." She expects an uptick as the end of the comment period approaches.
As for what's next, Spanner says the forms committee has 10 drafting subcommittees, so "there's no shortage of what's next." A recently launched subcommittee is drafting forms related to civil asset forfeiture. The committee is "hard at work on eviction forms for both landlord and tenants." A small claims complaint, a summons, a juvenile expungement form, and a protective order form are also in the works.
The committee prioritizes its form drafting by focusing on areas of law with high volumes of self-represented litigants, as mandated by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 10-101. Spanner says "data collected by the AIOC reveals that the court is seeing the highest number of self-represented litigants in areas of dissolution of marriage, small claims, eviction, and orders of protection."
The Committee also reviews suggestions from the public for new forms (http://bit.ly/2y1ihT3) and relies on its subject matter experts - judges, lawyers, and clerks, all of whom volunteer their time - to determine which specific forms are appropriate for standardization. Currently, there are 25 published form suites. The suites consist of the form, instructions for filling it out, and a guide to next steps. When appropriate, the suites also include a notice, summons, and/or order or judgment.
Spanner says that although the forms are aimed at pro se litigants, she hopes attorneys use them as well. She also hopes that judges "find the orders and judgments included in the suites helpful in ensuring that self-represented litigants understand the judge's ruling and its legal and practical implications." All of the forms are ADA compliant, and they'll be posted as PDFs to make e-filing easier. They are currently bundled with the "Getting Started" and "How To" material.
The three-year plan
The new forms are just the beginning of the Commission on Access to Justice's efforts. The supreme court is committed to assisting self-represented litigants and other vulnerable individuals with accessing the court system, Spanner says. (See this month's cover story for more.) While the forms are a large part of that mission, the commission is also working on "increasing the availability of qualified court interpreters in civil matters, growing the swath of plain language resources for self-represented litigants to use to navigate the court system, and evaluating remote access opportunities," among others.
The supreme court approved the commission's three-year strategic plan in May 2017. The plan outlines additional goals centered on core principles. For example, one principle is process simplification. It holds that in addition to providing litigants with plain language instructions, court procedures and policies should be streamlined to allow for positive user experience while preserving substantive and procedural fairness as well as due process rights. Another guiding principle is equal access to the judicial system. Economic disparities and language barriers can prevent Illinois residents from having meaningful access to the justice system.
One of the initiatives proposed by the commission is identifying, developing, and promoting the implementation of court policies and rules that encourage people to use lawyers, Spanner said. The commission hopes attorneys will engage in more limited-scope representation to make their services affordable to clients with limited means, she said.