Improving Access to Justice with Plain Language Family Law Court Forms

April 3, 2014

The "Plain Language Movement" has been afoot for many years in the United States, seeking to make legal documents accessible to a broad swath of intended readers. The movement is driven by many factors including the increasing number of self-represented litigants, the reduction of funding for civil legal aid programs, and the increasing complexity of the legal process. Additionally, the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Turner v. Rogers has caused states to double their efforts to remove complexity and exclusivity from the courtroom process, so that the law can accommodate self-represented litigants as effectively and fairly as possible.

In Washington, the Pro Se Project was created to improve self-represented litigant's access to the courts by improving pattern court forms. The practical justifications for plain language forms include: increased use of the courts by those without lawyers; increased readability; increased access for limited English proficiency litigants; reduced cost for litigants; and reduced costs for courts. Washington's first step in the project has been to rewrite some 211 pattern family law court forms in a plain language format. Twenty-four other states also have extensive plain language court forms for use in family law and other areas.

Riley Combelic is a second-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to