Portage County Lawyers Open Free Domestic Relations Clinic
Portage County Domestic Relations Judge Paula C. Giulitto expressed concern that too many individuals without attorneys are entering her courtroom unprepared to navigate the tricky legal questions raised in family disputes.
“As a judge, I can’t provide them legal advice,” she said. “But we have too many people coming before us that simply don’t understand the process and are in need of legal advice.”
That is why Judge Giulitto has teamed up with the Portage County Bar Association to offer a new 4-hour a month domestic relations legal clinic that is conducted on the first Wednesday of each month, starting Aug. 5. Judge Giulitto is offering a room in the Portage County Courthouse for volunteer lawyers to meet with those seeking advice. Otherwise, the program is being run by the county bar association entirely through volunteer efforts.
Judge Giulitto noted that unlike many other legal clinics, there is no formal screening for financial means in order to sign up for a 30-minute session with a domestic relations attorney. The only conditions of the program are:
- You are a Portage County resident
- You are married or in the process of getting married
- You are not presently represented by legal counsel
- You call in advanced to schedule one of 8 half–hour time slots
Those interested in an appointment can call the bar at (330) 296-6357.
Peter Kratcoski, chairman of the county bar’s Domestic Relations Committee, said he is overwhelmed with the response by practicing domestic relations attorneys to volunteer with the clinic and offer advice. The only restriction on the attorneys in the program is they need to assure they do not represent an opposing party or have a conflict of interest in the matters they are handling in the clinic.
Kratcoski said the county’s domestic relations attorneys also see the rise of unrepresented parties in domestic court and understand the struggles of many to afford an attorney. He said the advice offered during the clinic might not necessarily be legal strategy.
“As domestic relations lawyers, we are counselors,” he said.
One key benefit of staffing the clinic with practicing domestic relations lawyers is they know not only the court procedures, but also the social service providers in the area that play a key role in helping families deal with divorcing parents, domestic violence and other sensitive issues raised in domestic disputes. He observed that many times what a client has needed was not legal advice, but being linked to the appropriate resources for such issues as anger management or substance abuse.
“There are so many places now to get legal advice, like social media, and some of it is good and some might not be. This is a chance to get information from someone who practices this type of law,” he said.
Several Ohio counties have various programs to assist those with domestic relations issues, particularly those who are not represented by an attorney or are low-income residents qualifying to assistance through legal aid offices.