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Portage County Bar starts new domestic relations legal clinic

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 31, 2015

Peter C. Kratcoski has been practicing law since 1988.

In recent years, he’s been seeing more and more people needing help with all aspects of domestic relations law.

So Kratcoski and other members of the Portage County Bar Association decided to do something about it.

The Portage County Bar Association Domestic Relations Clinic is a new program that arose from the community’s need.

Once a month, a Portage County lawyer will donate four hours of their time to provide free legal advice regarding domestic relations issues. Each individual is given a 30-minute, no-strings-attached consultation.

“People forget we’re counselors as well as attorneys,” Kratcoski said. “The overall idea behind the legal clinic is to serve the community at large. Within that half hour, we will provide them with guidance to make decisions on their marriage and their lives. Issues could be with child custody, child support, spousal support, divorce dissolution - even domestic violence in some cases. Some consultations may result in us telling them they have other options besides court, like marriage counseling.”

The sessions will be held at the county courthouse in a room offered to a bar attorney, but the program is not affiliated with the court, Portage County Domestic Relations Judge Paula Giulitto said.

“This is not a walk-in program,” said the judge. “Someone must call in advance to make the appointment. However, there are no income restrictions or screening. The only qualifications are they must be a Portage County resident, they have to be married or the issue must be regarding a prior marriage, and they can’t currently be represented by an attorney.”

The first session begins Aug. 5. After that, they will continue to be offered on the first Wednesday of every month.

“We may look at twice a month depending on the response from the community,” Judge Giulitto said.

About 12 attorneys have already committed to the project, said Kratcoski, who chairs the bar’s Domestic Relations Committee.

“We’ve been happy that a number of folks have stepped up to volunteer,” he added.

The judge said she believes the clinic will help those struggling with all types of domestic relations problems.

“So many people come in to court and say, `I don’t need an attorney,’ or `I can’t afford an attorney,’ “ she said. “But if you offer them an opportunity to sit down with a lawyer, they’ll learn they had more rights and options than they thought they did. Many people have this misconception that attorneys are expensive and acrimonious. But many times, people can’t afford not to have a lawyer.”

To schedule a clinic appointment, call the bar association at 330-296-6357.