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The grant will fund a class that is required by courts for parents getting a divorce or determining child custody

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Janelle Adams, left, and Brandee Dudzic, right, run the Columbia County Law Library, providing residents with paperwork and guidance to represent themselves in legal proceedings like divorces or custody battles. The Columbia County Law Library is expanding its services for individuals navigating court processes.

In many counties in Oregon, parents who are going through a divorce or child custody proceedings are required to take a parent education class.

In Columbia County, there has only been one designated provider of the required parenting class.

Law librarian Brandee Dudzic said that divorces and child custody proceedings are the most common issues facing individuals who come to the library for assistance with court filings.

"After more than two years of running a free court forms clinic weekly, we have observed that the required parenting class is a tremendous impediment to the resolution of patrons' family law cases," Dudzic wrote in a grant application.

Five years ago, the law library revamped its services to focus less on serving local lawyers and more on serving the public. The library has offered assistance with civil court procedures, including divorces, child custody arrangements, wills, bankruptcy, landlord and tenant issues, and more, through information sessions hosted by local attorneys and court form clinics.

Staff at the law library don't give legal advice, but answer questions to guide residents through confusing legalise.

Columbia Pacific CCO, the Medicaid administrator for Columbia County, has awarded the law library a $25,000 grant to fund the court-mandated parenting class.

The parenting course is already offered by Community Action Team's Child and Family Development Programs, but only twice per month. The three and a half hour class also costs $50, which is the same as many other Oregon counties, though it ranges from free to as high as $280.

Some counties offer an online course, but Columbia County is entirely in-person.

The grant from CPCCO will allow the law library to offer an online course, which parents can complete at home or at the law library, where library staff can offer technical support and a cup of tea.PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - The Columbia County Law Library is open to the public for assistance with filling out legal forms.

The course takes around four hours.

"It might be best to do it (the class) here if they have a lot of distractions at home," Dudzic said. "The participant can make that choice for themselves though."

Most of the grant funding will go toward scholarships to parents who can't afford the $50 cost of the class.

Julianne Cullen, who runs the parenting class through CAT, said that the fee has only been increased once in the past 15 years and is just enough to cover wages and the parent handbook. Cullen said the courts also provide a fee waiver form for parents who can't afford to pay.

Dudzic, who ran unsuccessfully for Columbia County commissioner this year, said that the grant funding will allow the library to more effectively plead for state funding.

"We believe that if awarded this grant, we can demonstrate its value in order to state a claim for ongoing funding at the state level, especially since we are fulfilling a county-wide role as family law facilitators," Dudzic wrote in the grant application.

Columbia County is one of two counties in the state that doesn't have a family law facilitator program.

In Clatsop County, that program is called the Family Resource Center. Loretta Breedlove, the Family Resource Center supervisor, said that the center "assists non-represented litigants and we make sure their documents are completed" but is limited to document review, stopping short of legal advice. Those services are essentially the same as the Columbia County Law Library's Court Forms Clinic, but the Family Resource Center and other family law facilitator programs are part of and funded by the state court system.

When individuals face criminal charges but can't afford an attorney, the state provides one. But in civil procedures — which often have dire potential consequences, like losing one's home or custody of their children — legal assistance is harder to come by.

Free legal assistance in non-criminal issues is available to low-income residents, but there's a gap where people don't qualify for free assistance but can't afford a private attorney, Dudzic said.

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