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.
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.”