Guardianship clinic in Gulfport helps 39 children
August 2, 2019
Grandparents, other relatives and caring friends were able to establish guardianships for 39 children at a free guardianship clinic in Gulfport this week.
There were so many people seeking help at the Harrison County Courthouse on Monday, July 29, that the Eighth Chancery Court had to ask some people to come back on Friday, Aug. 2, to finish the process, said Chancellor Margaret Alfonso. People from Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties received assistance.
Most of the children had been living with their relatives for long periods of time. “We are just legalizing situations that have been in place for years. It doesn’t become a critical issue until it is time for them to go to school,” Judge Alfonso said.
Schools require relatives seeking to enroll children to have legal guardianship of those children. Also, relatives must have legal guardianship to seek medical care, public assistance and other services for children.
People who sought assistance included grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-parents and family friends. Many of the children’s biological parents were imprisoned, or just not present to take care of children. Children ranged in age from 1 to 16.
“It’s a myriad of relationships, but all of them need the legal paperwork,” Judge Alfonso said.
The common factor among all was they are poor and cannot afford to hire a lawyer to navigate the court system. “We are really filling that need for people who cannot afford lawyers,” Judge Alfonso said.
Kim Hart of Families First for Mississippi screened applicants for income eligibility.
Attorney Rodger Wilder of Gulfport, co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission, gave his time as a volunteer on Monday and Friday, giving legal advice to the clinic participants and preparing documents for them.
Wilder was saddened by the difficult circumstances they presented. One grandmother had partial paralysis. “She was coming in to get (guardianships for) her grandchildren so that she could take care of them. This woman is barely taking care of herself, but her heart says ‘I have to take care of these kids,’ ” Wilder said.
Another free guardianship clinic is planned for Dec. 5 at the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport, with a follow up date scheduled for Dec. 13. The free clinic is limited to guardianships.
The Access to Justice Commission and the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project are working to conduct free civil legal assistance clinics for residents of all 82 counties, as they did in 2018. Many of the clinics handle family law matters beyond guardianships, such as uncontested irreconcilable differences divorce, custody, visitation, name changes and birth certificate corrections.
For more information about the subject matter of a particular clinic, and to determine eligibility for free legal assistance, call or e-mail the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission at 601-960-9581 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project at 601-882-5001 or email@example.com.