Many Americans will be or are involved in state courts via domestic relations cases (e.g. divorce, separation, child custody, child support, etc.). Many states are reporting increases in these types of cases, along with increases in litigants who are representing themselves. While the state courts, Access to Justice Commissions, and other key stakeholders are beginning to examine and implement best practices and programs to address these cases, there is limited information available about what works.
The SJI-funded Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) Civil Justice Initiative purposefully excluded domestic relations cases from its work, recognizing that these case types are sufficiently different from general civil cases to warrant independent analysis and recommendations. What has become clear is that recommendations are needed to address domestic relations cases and guide state courts towards managing resources and improving outcomes.
With SJI support, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), in partnership with the CCJ/COSCA Courts, Children, and Families Subcommittee, will assess the current landscape of domestic relations cases, and promulgate recommendations to improve proceedings, rules, and practices. The Family Justice Initiative will consist of three phases: 1) Assess the Landscape and Best Practices; 2) Engineer Pathways and Development of Recommendations; and 3) Implementation and Evaluation. The Family Justice Initiative will focus primarily on cases involving divorce/dissolution, property distribution and spousal support, and the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. Cases that originated in criminal, probate or juvenile courts will be excluded from FJI.