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.
San Diego’s “one-day divorce” pilot project, founded in March 2014, has already seen successes in its first few months. The program, implemented by the San Diego Superior Court, allows couples who meet its requirements to complete a simple divorce in just one day. The success of the program to-date has made some wonder whether it will spread to other jurisdictions.
The Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois recently revised its rule in domestic relations mediation. The goal of the revision was to give the courts more flexibility in handling each case as effectively as possible and to give parties the choice to participate in an alternative dispute resolution process that best suits their needs.
The family justice system in England and Wales is undergoing its largest changes in 25 years, including a new, single Family Court to replace the three separate tiers of court that previously dealt with family proceedings. Under the new plan, a number of law centers will open throughout the country and employ law students to help divorcing couples walk through the legal process before they go to court.
As an interdisciplinary team, the students at the Resource Center provide services to families going through separation and divorce that they cannot get anywhere else. The comprehensive suite of services provided wouldn’t be possible for any one of us to offer singlehandedly. However, when we put our heads together, so to speak, we have the ability to help families go through the entire process, beginning to end, from all angles.
Celebrity couple Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently announced their intent to separate, and asked for privacy during their period of “conscious uncoupling.” The term has been embraced by some as a productive shift in the way couples conceptualize divorce. Conscious uncoupling refers to a process whereby couples take an intrinsic focus as to the reasons for their divorce, rather than externalizing blame and rancor toward their partner.
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. In Washington, the Pro Se Project was created to improve self-represented litigant’s access to the courts by improving pattern court forms. Twenty-four other states also have extensive plain language court forms for use in family law and other areas.
IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Love Kourlis was interviewed recently on Divorce Source Radio, a resource for individuals and families going through divorce. According to Kourlis, the challenge for IAALS and others is to explore how we can “create a system that would nurture people through it to the extent possible . . . while still achieving the separation of legal rights and responsibilities that are associated with divorce.”
Access to justice is by no means a new conversation in the United States, but it has been a frequent topic of conversation over the last few months. The issue took to the international stage last Thursday and Friday when the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked the U.S. to account for its growing civil justice gap, with two worrisome trends dominating the discussion.
A proposed amendment to the South Carolina constitution purports to change the waiting period for a no-fault divorce from 365 days to 150 days. Opponents argue that shortening the waiting period will lead to an increase in divorce, while proponents believe that the one year waiting period creates financial problems for couples and unneeded stress for children.
It is undisputed that divorce can be a costly endeavor for families, but a recent study from Great Britain suggests that the economic impact of divorce extends far beyond the family unit. This month, Great Britain’s Welfare Minister released alarming statistics from a recent study by the Relationships Foundation. The study estimated that family breakdown costs the country £46 billion a year—£1,541 for every taxpayer.
Utah requires divorcing couples to attend a two-hour seminar, and one lawmaker has proposed splitting the seminar into separate segments, the first of which occurring earlier in the process to help remind couples that reconciliation is an option. Meanwhile, a bill in Alabama would require couples with children to take a class designed to increase parents’ sensitivity to their children’s needs.
The San Diego Superior Court has implemented a new pilot program that allows couples to complete a simple divorce in just one day. The program has only a few requirements and is designed to foster collaboration between the parties so that the process can move swiftly toward less-adversarial resolution.
In a classic example of “two heads are better than one,” a group of stakeholders and legislators has come together to accomplish a substantial compromise on parental responsibility legislation and the family court process in Minnesota. The group took what were two sets of polarized opinions and came to a compromise that encompasses changes to parenting time, custody issues, and other family court processes in the state.
Recently, Natalie Knowlton and I provided an update to the Colorado legal community on the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families at the University of Denver—a model with national implications. The Resource Center was developed by the Honoring Families Initiative as an out-of-court alternative for families. I encourage readers to become familiar with our program and the impact we have had to-date.
This year, with the economy coming back from the “great recession,” the divorce rate has spiked from its 40-year low in 2009. Now that the economy is more stable, and people are feeling financially secure, those who were postponing divorce are starting to seriously consider it again.
IAALS would like to extend our sincere congratulations to Andrew Schepard on his designation as the Max Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Andy has been a longtime friend of IAALS, working closely with us on a range of issues.