Throughout the past year, Pro Bono Net has worked with courts and legal aid programs facing closures and service disruptions to ensure vital protection for at risk domestic violence survivors.  Our LawHelp Interactive program, which helps people create free and accurate legal forms, is a key strategy in this work.  

In New York State, the Family Offense Petition Program — a collaboration between LawHelp Interactive, the New York Courts and DV agencies — successfully filed more than 9,300 domestic violence petitions across the state in 2020, the highest in the program’s history. More than 3,100 petitions were filed through the program in Q3 2020, more than any previous quarter since the program was established in 2014. These landmark metrics reflect both the importance of this program that increases access to the courts, and the troubling increase in domestic violence during the pandemic that has been reported across the country

The Family Offense Petition Program (FOP) allows advocates, legal aid and government agencies to e-file petitions on behalf of survivors of abuse. With the FOP Program, trained domestic violence advocates across New York State use an online document assembly interview to help survivors of domestic abuse file petitions using Pro Bono Net’s award-winning LawHelp Interactive document assembly technology. The petition information is then electronically transferred directly into the court’s case-management system. As a result of extensive outreach and training, the program has approved advocates in all 62 New York State counties from a wide range of organizations, which include legal aid offices, probation agencies, YMCAs, and a team of social workers at a hospital. 

After a successful pilot in Bronx Family Court in 2014, the program was expanded statewide. The initiative is the product of a Grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women STOP Program and a collaboration between Pro Bono Net, New York state courts, and a wide range of stakeholders.

The Family Offense Petition Program makes the process of completing essential documents easier for litigants, advocates, and courts. It helps advocates seamlessly complete court papers with a LawHelp Interactive questionnaire, allowing them to add more details that strengthen litigants’ petitions, gets the petitions processed faster, and strengthens their relationship with courts. For litigants already detailing with stressful circumstances, this means less time spent travelling to court (when courts are open), more detailed legal papers, and less waiting time overall. It can also help victims feel more in control of their case. For courts, the tool produces legible court forms from trained advocates, saves hours in data entry, allows them to adjudicate faster, and streamlines the process so that they can handle more cases each day. 

Well before the pandemic, the FOP program played a key role in helping DV survivors complete and file forms to ensure their safety and protection, and access remote Skype hearings in many counties. The FOP program’s technology and collaboration strategy has proved even more essential in the last year, and will continue to help ensure thousands of survivors can access critical services and support under the most difficult circumstances. 

You can read more about how LawHelp Interactive helps those at risk of domestic violence, here. To learn more about the Family Offense Petition project, visit  our blog posts: Commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month with tools by LawHelp Interactive or NY Courts Honored with LTN Innovation Award for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project.