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VLSP Delves Back Into Family Law

At the Voluntary Legal Services Program, we have conflicting feelings about advertising our new project that benefits low income self-represented litigants. It’s 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, the Honorable 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.”

VLSP has experience in providing family law services to the indigent.  However, it has been about a decade since we provided family law services on anything 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 are able to talk 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. Volunteers are requested to provide help at VLSP’s office for 2-3 hours at least once per quarter.  At this project, the end of the appointment is the end of the services provided. Volunteers are not expected to take the case on in their private practices. Clients are able to 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.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project as a volunteer, please email Heather Tiffee, VLSP’s Assistant Program Manager, at [email protected]. If you know of low income people who need help in the Sacramento Family Court, please have them call VLSP at (916) 551-2166 to be screened and scheduled for an appointment.