Since opening in September 2013, the University of Denver’s Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families has served as an invaluable resource not only for participating families, but also for the graduate students who have an opportunity to work within their field and gain experience. In January’s Family Court Review, students and supervisors share their perspectives on the experience.
In its effort to highlight the paradigm shift in how law is being practiced, the ABA Journal recently reported on the IAALS model for a less adversarial, out-of-court divorce process and the first implementation of this model at the University of Denver. While a comprehensive, three-year evaluation of the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families is underway by IAALS, anecdotes from families who have proceeded through the process show that it is succeeding.
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark S. Cady announced in his 2015 State of the Judiciary speech the creation of a task force “to make recommendations for greater consistency, efficiency, and transparency in the resolution of family law cases.” According to Chief Justice Cady, “[t]hese cases are a big portion of our workload, and now is the time to make sure Iowa’s court system provides the best possible practices and outcomes for families who need our courts during difficult times.”
The National Center for State Courts recently released a screening tool for divorce cases to help courts “meaningfully differentiate cases.” The tool is designed to identify families who are largely in agreement on the issues in their case and need minimal or no court assistance. The tool is not a one-size-fits-all instrument, and jurisdictions around the country can adapt it to their particular circumstances.
The institution of marriage in the United States is stronger today than it has been for quite some time—or is it? Recent articles from The New York Times and The Week debate the issue and reach different conclusions. The NYT points to many reasons for the drop in divorce, while The Week argues the data is flawed and the state of marriage is not quite so positive.
Idaho has released a report evaluating its Informal Custody Trial (ICT) program. The ICT allows litigants in child custody cases to suspend the rules of evidence and the normal question-and-answer format of trial, waive the rules of discovery, and directly present their case, issues, and concerns to the court. The report had many encouraging statistics, but more evaluation may be needed to determine whether the program is successfully helping families.
New research out of the United Kingdom suggests that instead of facing the family court system without legal counsel, families are choosing to forgo the courts altogether. This problem is not novel to the UK, and self-represented litigants are on the rise in the United States as well. Our Cases Without Counsel project is conducting first-of-its-kind national research in the hopes of better understanding how the legal system can meet the needs of these families.
A family court in New York City recently allowed a father to serve his ex-wife with notice of a child support action via Facebook. The father first attempted to find and contact the mother through all of the traditional means, to no avail. The magistrate allowed the nontraditional service and noted that it was most likely the first of its kind in the country—when both parties are in the United States.
Family court judges make significant decisions affecting our nation’s families, yet these judges are often undervalued—even by their peers on the bench. And, there is insufficient acknowledgement of the broad expertise required to do the job well. A new IAALS publication aims to change this by drawing attention to the special knowledge, qualities, and skills that these judges need to be successful—and hopefully reprioritizing and revaluing their role in the legal system.
Courts in many countries have been striving to provide various services to help facilitate the increasing number of self-represented litigants who need their services—especially in family law cases. In Ontario, Canada, the National Self-Represented Litigants Project recently published An Open Letter to the Canadian Judiciary, meant to encourage a dialogue between self-represented litigants (SRLs) and judges, who may struggle at times to effectively assist SRLs in their courtrooms.
A Netherlands company is headed to New York to establish a “divorce hotel.” Couples with uncomplicated divorces can spend a weekend at the hotel to work through the process quickly with mediators and independent lawyers, with the goal of emerging with documentation that a judge can make final. The idea of alternatives to the traditional divorce process are not new in the United States, and continue to expand.
A recent article in The New York Times argues that divorced and never-married parents have, in a sense, lost their right to choose how they want to parent. While married parents get a level of discretion from the legal system, “[j]udges routinely decide where the children of divorced parents will attend school, worship and receive medical care.” Why the difference in treatment between married parents and those who are divorcing or separating?
A recent ABA survey report found that self-help legal centers around the nation “are a vibrant and effective resource” to those they serve. Receiving responses from nearly half of those surveyed, the ABA found that self-help legal centers now serve approximately 3.7 million people each year and mostly provide legal service in the area of family law, including child support, domestic violence, and guardianships.
There have been a few new resources made available for separating or divorcing families in the United Kingdom, including a website that provides information for families, a collection of legal expertise and advice in legal areas, and a guide for parents who wish to separate cooperatively.
One year ago, the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families opened its doors at the University of Denver to serve families in metro area. Based on an interdisciplinary out-of-court model developed by the Honoring Families Initiative, the RCSDF is operating at full-force today, helping numerous parents transition in a positive and constructive manner that better serves them and their children.
The United Kingdom Ministry of Justice recently announced the government’s “commitment that from the age of 10, children and young people involved in all family court hearings in England and Wales will have access to judges to make their views and feelings known.” The changes, which will be implemented as soon as possible, will also give children over 10 the opportunity to have input during mediation proceedings.
Legal Aid Ontario, which promotes access to justice for low-income individuals, recently created programs that provide services to couples wishing to divorce as long as one individual makes less than $18,000 and the other does not make more than $50,000. If couples qualify, the program provides “a whole different avenue that people can now access to resolve their family law problems.”
As reported previously, the cuts to legal aid in England have had a serious impact on the public’s ability to access the legal system and obtain representation. A recent article describes additional consequences stemming from the 2012 cuts. A survey of barristers indicated that 69% of respondents who worked as family legal aid practitioners reported a decline in fee income.
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. Thus far, the Resource Center has provided services to over 80 families, including 55 mediations and 18 final orders hearings.
A recent study has found that heavy use of social networking sites is “a positive, significant predictor of divorce rate and spousal troubles” in the United States. The apparent association between the use of social networking sites and divorce and marital unhappiness raises questions not only about how such tools are used, but how their use affects marriage.
The Center for Families, Children and the Courts recently released a report stemming from the Families Matter Symposium, which focused on this question: how do we radically transform a family court system from one that disrupts and tears apart families to one that helps heal them? The report details the suggestions that emerged from the Symposium.
The Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families provides an amazing opportunity for graduate students to gain real world experience not only working with clients but working with other professionals. As a dual JD and MSW student, the Resource Center seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime, and was more valuable than I could have ever dreamed.
IAALS announces a first-of-its-kind national project to examine the growing trend of American families who represent themselves in family court. The project will include a study of self-represented litigants to discover how family courts can help them navigate the justice system to achieve fair outcomes. Study results will be used to develop recommendations for ways that state courts can meet the needs of those without an attorney.
This issue has created something of a “two-tier system” in which the haves–those with representation–and the have nots–those without–can expect substantially different results in family court cases. This inequality is something that most people would agree is just part of the legal system. But in family court cases it is often the children, not the litigants, who suffer from the inequality.