The Queens County Supreme Court has opened a help center to assist people with online forms available through the state court system’s DIY Uncontested Divorce program. The center contains several court-provided computers and will eventually be staffed five days per week by volunteer non-attorney “navigators” trained to help members of the public to complete the forms.
The navigators program was introduced earlier this year as part of the court system’s Access to Justice initiative. Navigators, typically college or law students, currently assist unrepresented litigants in Brooklyn’s housing and consumer debt courts. They do not provide legal advice; rather, they are trained in state court DIY computer programs and can help people find a lawyer if needed.
Queens’ DIY uncontested divorce help center, located at the 88-11 Sutphin Blvd. courthouse in Jamaica, is the first use of the navigators outside Brooklyn. The court system started with uncontested divorces in Queens due to the high volume of DIY forms that are filled out incorrectly, said Gail Adams, a staff attorney with Access to Justice. Anyone with Internet access can fill out the forms from home. But forms with mistakes or omissions are rejected by the court, which delays the completion of a divorce.
“Some people, either because their English is not their first language or they lack literacy skills, just can’t figure it out,” Adams said. “This is a way to bridge that gap.”
Students from the City University of New York at York College will be recruited this fall to volunteer as navigators in Queens. Until then, Adams will be available to answer questions at the help center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.