Chief Judge Evans announces free legal services for at-risk families at new bi-lingual help desk
Released on 5/9/2012 7:44:16 PM

Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans and Domestic Relations Division Presiding Judge Moshe Jacobius announced the opening today of a help desk in the court’s Domestic Relations Division where litigants unable to afford an attorney can receive free legal advice for their child support enforcement and paternity cases, including those filed through the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

The new Expedited Child Support and Paternity Help Desk, a joint project of the Circuit Court of Cook County and the Chicago Legal Clinic, is located in the office of the court’s Expedited Child Support Program at 32 West Randolph Street, Suite 1400, in downtown Chicago. The program was created by the Supreme Court of Illinois in 1992 and uses an expedited hearing process to more quickly resolve Cook County’s high volume of paternity and child support disputes for unmarried, low-income persons. Hearing officers conduct hearings and make recommended orders to a judge for final approval. Orders typically cover agreed parentage, genetic testing of parties and children, discovery status, setting of child support, modifying child support, non-payment of support judgements and termination of support orders.

"The Circuit Court continues to support the implementation of help desks in those sections of the court where the challenges posed to and by litigants who represent themselves are greatest," said Chief Judge Evans. Currently, there are court-based help desks that provide various forms of assistance with the following matters: evictions, debt collection, small claims, divorce proceedings, foreclosures and obtaining the guardianship of a minor.

"Our goal is to improve access to the court system for the vulnerable population served by the Expedited Child Support Program while continuing to process the cases in a timely, fair and efficient manner," Chief Judge Evans added.

Expedited Child Support Program Director Yehuda Lebovits noted that 25,630 child support enforcement cases were filed through the State of Illinois’s IV-D Child Support Enforcement Program of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services in fiscal year 2005.

In addition to free legal advice on parentage and child support matters, help desk services include explanation of court procedures and orders, assistance with filling out court-required forms, and referral to an attorney or legal aid agency when self-representation is not in a litigant’s best interests. Assistance in identifying related social service resources will also be available.

The help desk will be staffed by two attorneys and a support assistant, all bilingual in Spanish and English, from the Chicago Legal Clinic. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and clients are served on a first come-first served basis. Help desk attorneys will not represent clients in court.

Chicago Legal Clinic co-founder and executive director Edward Grossman noted that the Expedited Child Support and Paternity Help Desk fits squarely with the mission of the Clinic as one of the primary providers of legal services to Chicago’s poor for the past 26 years. "This help desk is a really great opportunity for us to help between 1,800 and 2,400 clients in the first year of operation. These are clients facing difficult issues in a complex legal process who otherwise would have no access to legal services," said Grossman.

The Expedited Child Support and Paternity Help Desk was made possible by funding from the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, Illinois Bar Foundation, and the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, as well as in-kind contributions from the Circuit Court of Cook County.