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.
It comes as no surprise to those who work in or with the courts that many litigants these days proceed through the civil and family court system without an attorney. The figures collected and released in Indiana’s recent State of the Judiciary show that over half of all civil and family law litigants in 2013 were self-represented. And such high rates are not unique to Indiana.
While divorce is a legal process, anyone who has gone through it knows that it is also an emotional process. The reality is that the ‘emotional divorce’ and the ‘legal divorce’ most often have to be managed at the same time, but the legal process can make a significant difference in one’s experience, both during the process and for years after.
A pair of Illinois attorneys are offering a unique model for couples looking to end their marriage. Sandra Young and Brian Garvey are pioneering “The Weekend Divorce,” which builds on the collaborative law model and offers divorcing couples settlement on all issues over the course of a weekend. This new model comes in the wake of widespread experimentation with out-of-court alternatives for separating and divorcing families.
Forthcoming statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth show an increase in cohabitation among new parents, and demographers say this trend is likely to continue. The preliminary figures show that—for the first time—the percentage of unmarried couples who move in together after pregnancy surpasses the percentage that chose to marry.
In a recent article in The Colorado Lawyer, Judge Elizabeth Starrs gives practitioners insight from the bench, including helpful practice tips and an explanation of the Denver domestic relations process. Many of her observations suggest the benefits of a structured, in-court process for domestic relations disputes, with an emphasis on decreasing the adversarial nature of the proceedings—an approach also advocated by the Honoring Families Initiative.
Documentary film Divorce Corp opens in cities across the country today, drawing critical attention to family courts and those involved in the system. The Honoring Families Initiative recognizes that cost, complexity, and access are issues in the family court system, and IAALS will be participating on a panel discussion about possible solutions following a screening of the movie in Denver on January 12, which is open to the public.
France is considering a proposal that would allow divorcing couples who are in agreement on their issues to divorce without appearing before a judge. Nearly half of French marriages end in divorce, and 54 percent of these divorces are uncontested. Rather than potentially delaying the process in these cases, the “divorce by mutual consent” proposal would authorize court clerks to approve divorces.
A recent survey asked respondents for their opinions on both court and non-court proceedings for divorcing couples. Overall, only 51 percent of those surveyed indicated they would consider non-court alternatives and only one-fourth believed that non-court proceedings protect parties’ rights. These findings suggest a lack of understanding about out-of-court solutions for families that are often less stressful and less expensive than lengthy in-court proceedings.
Studies on predictors of divorce abound. Among the more recent is a study exploring a connection between the intensity of one’s smile—as memorialized in a yearbook picture—and the likelihood of divorce. Individuals who smiled the least in their photos were five times more likely to divorce when compared with those who smiled the most intensely.
Recent studies are shedding new light on the impact of divorce on society and the individual. According one study, based on data collected beginning in 1948, divorce may be “contagious” and that having a friend who is divorced dramatically increases one’s chances of divorce. And, another study found that divorced people were two times more likely to die from the most-preventable causes of accidents than their married counterparts.
Recent statistics from the United Kingdom show a drop in family mediation referrals, which have fallen an average of 26 percent from April to June 2013, compared to the same period last year. A number of possible reasons have been given to account for this drop, including a cut in legal aid funding for family law cases, following which courts have reported a substantial increase in cases filed.
Drawing attention to the costs of high-end divorce, Justice Matthew Cooper of the New York Supreme Court recently refused to go along with longstanding legal precedent that assigns responsibility for attorneys’ fees in divorce cases to the party with the most assets. Justice Cooper made his ruling in the three-year divorce case of hedge fund manager George Sykes, which has accumulated approximately $1 million in legal fees to-date.
On September 3, the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families at the University of Denver opened its doors to metro-area families. The Center is a model for providing interdisciplinary, out-of-court solutions to separating and divorcing families. This IAALS “out-of-court model” is part of an international trend towards less adversarial separation and divorce processes.
The new Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families at the University of Denver is open for business. Media buzz around the first-of-its-kind Center, based on the model developed by IAALS, continues to grow. Listen to the interview with Rebecca Love Kourlis and Melinda Taylor.
The Honoring Families Initiative has released a white paper on the role of courts and communities in separation and divorce. Designed to spark national conversation and encourage collaboration between different disciplines, the paper sets the stage for our work in the years to come. Central to the premise of the paper is that the needs of children and families effected by divorce or separation have changed drastically, the system has not been able to keep pace, and the needs of children and families are increasingly not being met.
In the latest edition of Unified Family Court Connection, IAALS Honoring Families Initiative Advisory Committee members William J. Howe, III and Justice Paul J. DeMuniz highlight Oregon’s efforts to better serve children and families dealing with divorce and conflict. Included in its efforts is an Informal Domestic Relations Trial that IAALS helped the Oregon State Family Law Advisory Committee develop. The authors also discuss the model for Resource Centers for Separating and Divorcing Families, which was developed by the Honoring Families Initiative.
The Delaware Legislature recently passed a resolution requesting a study to examine the possibility of opening Family Court proceedings to the public. Delaware’s legislature has shown a long history of interest in opening such proceedings, beginning in 1992. The review must be complete by February 15, 2014.
At the direction of the Montana Legislature, the Montana Law and Justice Interim Committee met last month with the objective of finding ways to improve the Montana family court and domestic relations proceedings. To facilitate their analysis, the committee plans to examine three issues in particular: the current cost and efficiency of the Montana family court system, family law models successfully used in other states, and measures needed to improve the administration of justice and the non-adversarial resolution of family court matters in Montana.
A recent article in the Washington Post suggests that our current concept of marriage needs to adapt to the high divorce rate in the United States. As a solution, the author borrows a concept from property law and suggests that couples enter into “wedleases”—agreements in which couples commit to one another for a set period of years. The article argues that “wedleases” provide a practical option for couples to part ways at the end of a bad relationship without going through a messy divorce process.
This summer, the Brooklyn Family Court Child Support Study hopes to improve the quality of legal assistance to self-represented litigants in child custody proceedings. Observers will track whether magistrates explain to self-represented litigants the reason for the hearings, explain the courtroom proceedings, and/or exhibit irritation with the litigants. Then, the observers will follow up with the litigants in a brief interview to discern whether the litigants found the proceeding to be fair and whether they understood what took place in the courtroom.