(1) Lowell Court Service Center: Bridging the Gap to Justice

The Lowell Justice Center in the city’s Canal District. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Lowell Court Service Centers were created out of an “access-to-justice” study, which found that there exists a significant gap in achieving justice in the family court system due to differences in access to legal aid and knowledge. Lower-income populations that would represent themselves in family court more often encountered difficulties understanding and navigating the courtroom, as well as following proper legal procedure, compared to those with access to lawyers or legal aid. The majority of those that come to the court service centers for help systematically are not able to afford legal representation or guidance, and are consequently placed at a disadvantage in ensuring their own quality of life.

Dysfunction and generational inequalities is what necessitates families to seek help with Family Court, but our current justice system punishes those that inevitably are not able to transcend that dysfunction into proper legal self-representation. Effectively, the system that is set up to solve issues for families is also the system that subliminally punishes them for their issues. The access-to-justice study found that the solution of a center where help was guaranteed for free would alleviate the gap that persists in the justice system in which capital and access to legal aid often does more to help than the justice system itself. 

The court service centers aims to aid lower-income self-representing individuals with the correct petitions, access to language interpreters, and knowledge in how to navigate and work the family court system. I am responsible for helping clients file for domestic violence petitions, child support and custody petitions, restraining orders, eviction defenses, and divorces. Many of these litigants come in with emergency situations in which they need emergency temporary orders, but lack the access to the knowledge or help to receive them. They are dealing with monumental events in their lives, but are unable to effectively navigate a court system that is made to be complex, formulaic and oftentimes unsympathetic to the multifaceted issues litigants face in and around the home. I aid these clients with the legal filing process and inform them on the case process while offering language support and legal knowledge on the way.

The small steps that are leading to the closing of that gap of access to justice are the individuals who are representing themselves in the most efficient way and are ensured justice and fair representation due to the help from the court service centers. The court service centers are free and public alternatives to the high costs of legal aid that deter many lower-income families from ever receiving justice with family court. In this way, the justice system is becoming more equitable as the court service centers strips away the layers of classism and income discrimination that dominate court. Progress will be when the factors of wealth and privilege are stripped of their grip on the justice system, where representation is guaranteed and legal procedures are made understandable and accessible to people of all walks of life. 

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