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IAALS on Its Out-of-Court Model for Divorcing Families

Riley Combelic Posted in Featured, Honoring Families

Law Week Colorado recently published an article highlighting the Honoring Families Initiative model for out-of-court resolution of divorce and separation, and custody matters, which is currently being piloted at the University of Denver’s Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families. The Resource Center, which opened in September of last year, provides interdisciplinary services to families, including: legal education, dispute resolution, therapeutic, and financial planning services.

Thus far, the Resource Center has provided services to over 80 families, including 55 mediations and 18 final orders hearings. “Everything about this model is unique,” said Melinda Taylor, Executive Director of the Resource Center. “One of the things we didn’t predict—but it’s quite interesting—is that people’s perception of the justice system is very positive as a result of working with us.”

Rebecca Love Kourlis, Executive Director of IAALS and a retired justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, recalls her experience in the courts: “As I sat on the bench in divorce cases, it really hit me that the process is ill adapted to the needs of the families, and children in particular.” When Kourlis founded IAALS in 2006, a solution to this problem was uppermost in her mind. The HFI model, which runs parallel to the court system rather than completely outside of it, is what Kourlis calls a “win-win on both sides.”

The next steps for the model are to replicate it in other communities, allowing the process to adapt to each site’s unique needs within the basic framework of the model. The basic components each site must include are: housing in a university or community-based center, a collaborative relationship with the courts, a focus on children, non-profit structure, the provision of interdisciplinary services, and a comprehensive and ongoing evaluation.

“We’re working on model-replication and we’re going at that full speed,” said Natalie Knowlton, Director of the Honoring Families Initiative. “We have a lot of interest from other universities. We understand that jurisdictions are going to differ on how it’s implemented.” But, as long as the key components at the heart of the model are realized in every location, IAALS is confident that the model will continue to be successful for families on a national scale.

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