Family Court Help Desk: Free Legal Advice on Family Court cases and petitions
In September 2013, The Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP), along with the assistance and support of the Erie County Family Court, implemented a new program to provide limited-scope advice to individuals with Erie County Family Court matters. The Family Court Help Desk is staffed by one or two law school interns and an attorney.
When a client arrives at the Help Desk, the client is screened for financial eligibility and intake is completed by the intern. Once the intern gathers all necessary information, including what advice the client is seeking, the client meets with the attorney. The attorney then advises the client accordingly.
The goal of the program is to help inform unrepresented litigants. When applicable, we hope to reduce the number of unnecessary petitions that are filed (e.g., explaining to a client that a change of circumstances is necessary for a modification and advising the client to wait for a change to occur before filing the petition).
Additionally, while the filing of a particular petition may be proper, the petition is often poorly written and subsequently dismissed as a result. If the attorney can explain what is required for a petition to survive a Motion to Dismiss, this may reduce the amount of petitions being dismissed and later refiled (or amended).
Lastly, the client is provided with general information that helps the client navigate Family Court more effectively. This information includes: referrals to programs that may be able to represent the client; information about Assigned Counsel and how to obtain an attorney through the program; and general advice regarding the court process is explained to clients who are unfamiliar with the procedure, particularly explaining what occurs at the first court appearance and what the client can do to prepare for Court.
If you are an attorney interested in volunteering at the Help Desk, please fill out this form or contact Shelby Maroselli, Esq., Help Desk Coordinator/Staff Attorney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help Desk Volunteer Attorneys earn CLE credit for pro-bono work.
FCHD in WNY: Locations and Times
Erie County Family Court
1 Niagara Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14202
4th Floor (Room 428)
Monday through Friday
11:30AM – 2:00PM
Niagara Falls Family Court Building
775 Third Street, Niagara Falls, NY
11:00 AM – 1:30 PM
Please bring all court paperwork (including original orders/petitions) and questions for the attorney at the Help Desk.
Please note that the Help Desk has an income eligibility requirement, runs on a first-come, first-served basis and is for one-time advice only. The Help Desk does not provide a “second opinion” for clients who already have an attorney.
*The help desk is closed for holidays and whenever New York State Courts are closed. See here for court schedule.