Maryland Legal Aid expands online custody forms interview

Two online tools unveiled by Maryland Legal Aid last year to help a parent seeking custody are now more powerful. Pro se (self-help) litigants can now file answers to complaints, motions for modification of custody and visitation, petitions for contempt, and answers to these types of motions and petitions.

The Child Custody and Visitation Interview is a website that interactively helps clients complete and fill out forms required by the circuit court to begin a custody proceeding—an online “automated custody interview.”

Unveiled last year, now the website is accessible to even more Maryland residents because it contains powerful tools that can by used by both plaintiffs and defendants in custody matters.

“Both parties can file the forms they need to tell the court their side of the story about the custody matter,” said Legal Aid’s Katherine Jones. “The new interactive interview walks the party through the process; answering questions they might have about how to complete the blanks on the forms. Now, no one should feel like the court isn’t listening to them just because they don’t have a lawyer.”

The new interview can be found linked from the Peoples Law Library.

Maryland Legal Aid is among an increasing number of pioneering legal aid organizations, pro bono programs, and courts using online document assembly to increase and improve access to the courts. This growing movement is made possible by the National Document Assembly Project of Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice. The NDAP allows self-represented litigants and pro bono and legal aid attorneys to quickly and easily draft complete legal documents such as requests for orders of protection and answers to eviction complaints, by answering questions via an easy-to-use online interface. This initiative is in use in 26 states and generated 111,000 documents in 2008.

The new online tools were developed by Legal Aid, the Maryland Legal Assistance Network, the Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Access to Justice & Technology, Capstone Practice Systems, Inc., LexisNexis, and the Legal Services Corporation.

The website can be accessed at http://www.peoples-law.org (in the Family Law section under “Need Help with Maryland Custody Forms?”). A separate advocate-specific website, updated to include the additional forms (as well as the new interview questions needed for those new forms), is available at http://www.mdjustice.org (in the Children and the Law Resource Center; click on New Automated Maryland Custody Forms).

The latest version of Adobe Flash is required to access the Child Custody and Visitation Interview.  Most Maryland public libraries allow printing from public computers for a nominal fee.

For more information, call Katherine J. Jones at 443-604-4729, David Demski at 410-451-2892, or  Joe Surkiewicz 410-951-7683.

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