College of Law and Women’s Resource Center to give divorce, custody advice

When programs coordinator Kim Hall first joined the Women’s Resource Center, she received “what felt like constant calls concerning information about legal advice for divorce.”

Because going through a divorce can be so emotionally taxing, Hall and the center’s professional therapists formed a support group, The ‘Ex’ Factor, which meets every Tuesday.

“It isn’t just for women. We’ve had men call and say, ‘I have some questions. Can I come?’ And of course they can,” she said.

But the group wasn’t enough.

Hall said that often those who call the center are reacting to information their spouses gave them.

“What these [divorcs,] women in particular, are dealing with is a fear-based reality that’s not anchored in the law,” Hall said.

The emotional counseling needed to be supplemented with legal advice. In stepped the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

For the last five years, the college’s Pro Bono Initiative has paired second- and third-year law students with professional attorneys to give free legal advice.

According to www.utahbar.org, “Pro Bono Initiative students cannot give legal advice without attorney supervision. However, students do provide valuable assistance to attorneys doing pro bono legal work for low-income Utahns and for non-profit agencies.”

Kristin Erickson, assistant dean of the college, agreed the work is valuable.

“Anything we can do to make the legal system more accessible,” she said.

So now the college and the center are joining forces to create a special once-a-month program tailored to family law.

“The pro bono’s great for them because there’s people there to answer their questions and there’s not a money clock ticking,” Hall said.

The first session starts this Thursday. Erickson said this family law program is important because the cost of such advice has almost driven family law into a state of crisis.

“The cost of legal services can be devastating,” she said. “People don’t seek answers…because they can’t afford to.”

For the students, it is important to learn that there is an “ethical obligation for attorneys to provide legal advice for those who have no means of attaining it otherwise,” Erickson said.

“By encouraging students to participate in the Pro Bono Initiative the college of law seeks to promote an ethic of public service among students, attorneys and others associated with the practice of law,” stated utahbar.org.

And so, through the program, women and men can get emotional and legal counseling, and the students can get experience handling clients. The clients need not worry because the students will be under the supervision of licensed professionals.

“Between the groups and the legal advice, they act as a way for women to get their feet back on solid ground and start the process of going through a divorce,” Hall said.

For more information about the support group or the pro bono work, visit www.sa.utah.edu/women/index.html or www.abanet.org/legalservices/probono/lawschools/117.html.

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Divorce and Family Law Q&A and Individual ConsultationThursday, Feb. 36-7:30 p.m.S.J. Quinney Law School, 332 S. 1400 East