Simplifying Divorce Forms through Legal Navigator

Author: Mary Pascual, Access to Justice Tech Fellow

The Problem and the Goal

In order to terminate a marriage, parties must go through an emotional court process and file multiple forms, which may differ based on their circuit.  In Hawaii, there are four different circuits.  While all the circuits require basically the same forms to be filled in, it differs in the title of the forms, the way the questions are asked, the answers they want provided.  This causes confusion to parties trying to start the divorce process on their own.

In my project, I helped to simplify each circuit’s divorce forms into one, unified form.  The goal of the project was to simplify the divorce process for the parties so that they could terminate their marriage without a lawyer and to be accessible to everyone.  This goal was to be achieved through an online AI tool used to provide legal information to the public while also making a plan to fit their legal issue.  By creating a unified form, it makes it easier to create a single, simplified interactive interview for the entire state instead of needing to create different interviews for different circuits for basically the same form.  Therefore, the party will have an easier time through the process.

The ProjectMary Pascual A2J Tech Fellow 1

In order to complete the goal, I first had to go through the various forms of each circuit and compare them to one another.  In some forms, each circuit had the exact same information. In other forms, each circuit would either phrase their question or answer choice differently or put it under different sections, but it would be relatively the same.  However, in certain forms, a circuit may not ask the question another circuit asked or give an answer another circuit provided.  I noted each similarity and difference by making a table for each form.  In each table, the columns’ headings were the different circuit courts.  The rows were the different variables that the forms had.  In the table, I would write down word-by-word exactly how each circuit phrased their questions, answer choices, and information so that my supervisor could later determine if the information was materially different.

Once I looked through all of the forms, I worked on combining the different circuits’ form into a single form.  I did this by converting the First Circuit’s PDF forms into a Word Document with the help of Jenny Silbiger, the Hawaii Supreme Court Law Librarian and Access to Justice Coordinator.  From there, I would put in the different answer choices, subsections, or paragraphs that another circuit would have while adding comments of which areas were different from the First Circuit.

Once I worked on all of the forms, Nalani Fujimori Kaina, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, reviewed the forms and marked which wording should be used in the combined forms.  For example, while the first (Oahu) and second (Maui, Molokai, and Lanai) circuit refer to the parties as Plaintiff and Defendant, the third (Kona and Hilo) and fifth (Kauai) circuit refer to the parties as Husband and Wife.  She explained that using genderless pronouns would be better.  Based on her notes, I created a draft for a single, unified form.

After that, I worked on creating tables for the different variables (or answers) the Plaintiff or Defendant will be required to put in each form.  I also created tables to show which forms had the same questions and answers in order to minimize the chances of the same question being asked while also helping the user in automatically filling in the answer.

The Next Step

There is still a lot more to do for the divorce portion on Legal Navigator.  However, hopefully, through this project, we can learn more ways to give the public simple, accessible legal advice in other legal issues.  For now, it’s a step in the right direction.



Mary Pascual A2J Tech Fellow 2Mary Pascual is a law student at Gonzaga University School of Law, class of 2021. She was selected as the 2019 Fellow for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii as part of the Access to Justice Tech Fellows Program. She is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a degree in information and computer sciences.

Mary worked with Legal Aid’s Executive Director, Nalani Fujimori Kaina in the development of content for the Legal Navigator Project and Legal Aid’s “Schema Project” with the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School under LSC’s Technology Innovation Grant.

2018 Hawaii Access to Justice Conference: Fighting for Access to Justice for All

Written by: Kara Doles

Kara Doles is Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s Technology Project Coordinator, and has been working with the Microsoft, LSC and Pro Bono Net teams on the Simplifying Legal Help portal pilot in Hawaii. Hawaii was selected as a pilot project because of their demonstrated track record in establishing new and collaborative resources for meeting civil legal needs; their embrace of technology’s potential to expand access to legal assistance; and their vision of partnering with allied non-legal networks such as social services, public libraries, and health care institutions to help people identify and resolve their legal issues and related social needs. Learn more about why Hawaii was selected in our previous post.

Prior to her work on the portal project in Hawaii, Kara served as an AmeriCorps Advocate with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s Intake Unit and Center for Equal Justice after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in French language and Philosophy (law and ethics focus) from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In this piece she discusses her experience at the Hawaii Access to Justice Conference in 2018.

Conference attendees comprised of lawyers, non-attorney advocates, judges, court staff, government officials, social service providers, and community members came together to be invigorated and inspired by the 2018 Hawaii Access to Justice Conference, “Fighting for Access to Justice for All,” held on June 29 at the William S. Richardson School of Law. Sponsored annually by the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, this conference offered a unique forum of engagement around initiatives and programs that aim to expand access to the civil justice system.

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The Hawaii Access to Justice Commission was established in 2008 by the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii in response to the findings of representatives from several legal organizations concerning the unmet legal needs of Hawaii’s low and moderate-income residents. Among other notable conclusions, it was determined that significant barriers to obtaining legal assistance in Hawaii, in addition to an inability to afford an attorney, include language and cultural barriers, lack of knowledge of one’s legal rights, lack of knowledge of available legal services, and difficulty in accessing legal services programs.

Friday’s conference atmosphere buzzed with eager and hopeful change agents who devote their life’s work to “making music with what is left.” This analogy was brought to life by Rachael Wong of the Department of Human Services in her session, “Collaborations and Innovation for Equal Justice” during which she emphasized two ways to reach more people and extend scope: 1) Partnerships with new allies; and 2) Use of Technology. Amidst a group of people who collectively want to make progress in this area, there always remains the question of “Where do we go from here?” Rachael suggests connecting and collaborating with new partners such as libraries, folks in the health care industry, and navigators in the community. Additionally, she stressed the importance of leveraging resources and getting more impact for existing resources through the use of technology and creation of online options.

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The one day conference covered topics including Worker’s Rights for the Low-Income Employee, Sexual Harassment and Access to Justice, Access to Justice for Immigrants, Technology in Mediation, Expanding Civil Access to Justice in Prisons and Jails, and Ensuring Access to Justice with the Revival of the Hawaiian Language. Attendees were also very excited to learn about the Legal Access Platform’s progress and future plans in the session, “Incubating Innovation in Access to Justice through Technology: The Microsoft Legal Access Platform” where panelists Nalani Fujimori Kaina, Executive Director of Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Carly Ichiki, Lead Project Manager at Microsoft, and Suzanne Brown-McBride, Consultant with Pew Charitable Trusts discussed and clarified the platform’s objective. Session attendees were fortunate to hear three different perspectives, and discover how this project is truly a collective effort of many players working to merge the legal and technology worlds together. Participants were especially intrigued about the artificial intelligence and machine learning elements, and raised questions about cultural language nuances (“pidgin”), access for LEP persons, and the platform being a trusted source. All things considered, panelists received overwhelming positive feedback on how the advent of this tool symbolizes a remarkable milestone in educating and empowering pro se litigants across the Aloha state.

This project has been of significant and ongoing interest to the legal, social, and human services communities in Hawaii as it promises to produce a resource critical to solving multi-dimensional legal issues affecting the most vulnerable in the state. The 2018 Access to Justice Conference attendees left the day feeling more hopeful, connected, and encouraged to keep charging forward as Hawaii leads the nation in making access to justice a reality for all people to another level.