Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission announced that the Circuit Court of the 22nd Judicial Circuit of McHenry County will be receiving a grant award to enhance the access to justice for self-represented litigants. The Access to Justice Commission, through a competitive grant process, accepted proposals from the Illinois Circuit Courts who wanted to begin programs to aid individuals seeking court services, without attorney representation.

The Circuit Court of the 22nd Judicial Circuit of McHenry County, similar to many other jurisdictions, has a considerable number of divorce cases filed by self-represented litigants.

Nearly 30 percent of all divorce cases filed with the 22nd Judicial Circuit include self-represented litigants as both plaintiff and defendant and family law cases can be among the most protracted and stressful proceedings for litigants. Oftentimes without the assistance of counsel, these individuals struggle to achieve meaningful access to the court which translates into frustration for the litigant.

The program proposed by the 22nd Judicial Circuit is an Early Resolution Program for divorce cases which meet the following criteria:

• Both parties are self-represented;

• No children are involved;

• No complex marital assets;

• No complex marital debts;

• No pending order(s) of protection;

• No pending case(s) of domestic violence.

In cases that meet the above criteria, the parties will be sent a notice advising that their case has been selected to participate in the Early Resolution Program, the location and date of the session, and an informational brochure outlining the program, its goals and what the litigants can expect.

The Early Resolution Program will be unique, as the approach will be a "problem solving" model rather than that of the traditional adversarial approach. The court will work with local legal aid centers and members of the local bar in order to seek attorneys willing to assist the self-represented litigants to narrow the issues and aid in the completion of paperwork during the session. Sessions will be scheduled each month and be held in one of the courtrooms located at the McHenry County Government Center.

At the conclusion of the session, if parties have been able to resolve outstanding issues and have completed the necessary paperwork, the parties will receive a judgment of dissolution the same day as the session.

The goal of the Early Resolution Program is to shorten the length of time from the date of filing to case disposition, which will reduce costs due to lost wages for litigants to attend court hearings, provide meaningful access to the judicial system, reduce the number of case processing steps and hopefully the number of post dispositional hearings.

The grant award is in the amount of $15,000, which will cover costs associated with the project.