Supporting the Nation's Judicial System & the Public it Serves

Family and Civil Justice Reform

SJI promotes court-based solutions for the myriad of civil case types, such as domestic relations, housing, employment, debt collection, which are overwhelming court dockets. 

Domestic Violence AWARE Project: Helping Courts Implement Protocols for DV Analysis, Warnings, Action, Recovery, and Engagement

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) is engaging with additional court and court security experts to develop the Domestic Violence Analysis, Warnings, Action, Recovery, and Engagement (AWARE) Project.  Analysis and Warning will focus on security and domestic violence education; courthouse design analysis from a safety perspective; and communication strategies regarding high-risk litigants; Action will focus on preparation for active emergencies; Recovery and Engagement will focus on protocols and agreements to address post-incident the needs of the facility, personnel, staff, and impacted community members.

Domestic Violence Screening Project

The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC) is implementing a domestic violence screening protocol designed to identify specific domestic violence threshold markers which qualify a case for judicial waiver from mediation. The addition of specialized orientation material, chiefly a video, will underscore the realistic expectations of what mediation can and cannot provide, as well considerations for parties to review and resources to access before mediation.

Durham County, NC, has been piloting the screening protocol for the last 18 months and will be the first to add the video to the process.  The screening protocol in conjunction with a new electronic case management system is being rolled out in phases across the state over the next five years.

Family Justice Pathways Initiative

The  Marion County, Indiana, Superior Court is partnering with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to implement a tailored, streamlined triage/pathways approach to family law cases consistent with the Family Justice Initiative (FJI). The Court is especially interested in learning from the COVID-19 pandemic and identifying Family Division processes that can be handled remotely or virtually.   

The Court will work with the NCSC, along with staff from the Institute for the Advance of the American Legal System (IAALS), to implement the FJI triage/pathways approach. The NCSC/IAALS will: 1) meet with key stakeholders to determine potential challenges/barriers to operationalizing pathways, and determine strategies for addressing those challenges; 2) develop a trauma-informed screening tool to triage cases; 3) determine where services can be provided remotely; 4) help the Court establish a staffing model based on the FJI case management team approach; 5) create performance measures; and 6) identify services and resources needed to support litigants, including self-represented litigants through the new processes.  The project will result in a streamlined triage/pathway process for family cases that will better serve litigants and create efficiencies in court operations. The Court will use the 13 Principles for Family Justice Reform, which will result in a domestic relations case processing approach that emphasizes problem-solving and cooperation between parties, especially when children are involved.

Piloting Utah’s Legal Services Oversight Office

The Utah Office of Legal Services Innovation, an office of the Utah Supreme Court, was established to both loosen existing rules for lawyers and pilot a “policy sandbox” for providers to safety test innovations in the delivery of legal services.   The office accepts proposals for modifications in current rules allows organizations to test innovations and has established conditions for those tests, including data requirements to assess the risks, costs, and benefits.  The pilot is also testing both the approach to regulation and the specific design of the regulatory entity and its businesses practices. 

Impact of the Limited License Legal Technician

In partnership with the Washington Supreme Court, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) conducted an evaluation of the Washington State Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) Program. LLLTs are licensed by the Washington Supreme Court to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody, and other family law matters in Washington.  The evaluation includes a focus group of certified LLLTs to learn more about their business models and experiences; surveys to LLLTs, clients, interested lawyers, and judges to gauge their experiences with the LLLT model; and case reviews to examine case outcomes from cases assisted by LLLTs in comparison to cases assisted by lawyers or completed by self-represented litigants.  Ultimately, NCSC published Assessing Improvements in Access to Justice: An Evaluation Framework for Allied Legal Professional Programs. 

Family Justice Triage Project

The Connecticut Judicial Branch,  along with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), is working to replace the current Family Civil Court “Short Calendar” motions docket in favor of a triage approach under the Family Justice Initiative (FJI).  The Family Civil Short Calendar is a regularly scheduled court docket for attorneys or self-represented litigants who have filed motions related to a dissolution of marriage complaint or custody application.  

The Judiciary is working with the NCSC to 1) establish an Advisory Committee to oversee the triage implementation plan; 2) for the elements of the triage plan; 3) determine the data that will need to be collected to monitor impact; 4) identify benefits and barriers to implementing the new triage process, and how to overcome those barriers; and 5) replace the Short Calendar with the new triage process.

Family Justice Pathways Project

The Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court, with assistance from the  National Center for State Courts (NCSC), is implementing the Family Justice Initiative (FJI) Pathways approach in the Bristol and Plymouth Divisions of the Probate and Family Court. The pathways model tested in these two courts will serve as a roadmap for rollout statewide.

The project includes: 1) establishing an Advisory Committee to provide oversight of an implementation plan; 2) working in collaboration with judges, court staff, attorneys, and other stakeholders in Bristol and Plymouth to form elements of the implementation plan; 3) drafting an implementation plan/protocol with performance measures; 4) developing and presenting a survey methodology for judges, staff, and parties; and 5) implementing the pathways approach.

Family Justice Initiative

The Family Justice Initiative (FJI), established in 2017 by the Conference of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators (CCJ/COSCA) , is supported by 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).  The FJI sets forth a model that draws upon data-informed strategies to assist the resolution of family matters. Through screening and assessment tools, and triage case management, judges and court staff can better identify cases that require substantial court-based or community services, and cases requiring minimal court resources and little or no exercise of judicial discretion. 

The project’s first phase included a national assessment of domestic relations case processing in urban courts.  Phase two included the development of national Principles for Family Justice Reform.  Following CCJ’s approval of the Principles, project partners launched Phase Three to implement the Principles in four pilot jurisdictions: Miami-Dade, Florida; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Pima County, Arizona; and King County, Washington.

Military Families in Juvenile and Family Courts

The National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)  maintains the National Resource Center on Military-Connected Families and the Courts, which is designed to be a resource for judicial officers and others working in courts with military-connected families in cases involving family violence, protection orders, divorce, child custody, child support, child abuse and neglect, and juvenile delinquency.

In addition to supporting two demonstration court project sites – Camp Pendleton/San Diego County (California), and Fort Knox/Hardin County (Kentucky) – NCJFCJ has convened two national summits on courts and military-connected families. The first convening as in March 2015 at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia.  The goal of the Summit was to create the groundwork for a collaborative relationship between the courts and the many military institutions, civilian agencies, and government departments that assist military families when they access the state courts. The final report outlines eight specific ways to leverage national support of military families and courts, based on shared insights from participants, some of which included: increasing membership on its Military Issues Committee; keeping participants connected and engaged in the discussion virtually; fostering support for local and state-level court and command collaborative; and development of training curricula for key stakeholders within the collaborative. 

NCJFCJ held the Second National Summit on Courts and Military-Connected Families on September 23-24, 2019, at Fort Knox in Kentucky. The Summit brought together members and staff of the military-related committees of the NCJFCJ, subject matter experts, representatives of national-level organizations that serve military-connected families, stakeholders with local and state government and nonprofit organizations, and members of the civilian and military communities of two demonstration sites selected for this SJI-funded project.  The Summit’s purpose was to advance the national discussion by those who engage with justice-involved service members, National Guard, Reserve, and veteran populations on how best to assist when they interface with juvenile and family courts. The final report includes recommendations for action steps moving forward.   

Civil Justice Initiative

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) finalized a three-year project with the release of their report, Transforming Our Civil Justice System for the 21st Century: The Road to Civil Justice Reform.  The report highlights the experiences of four states—Idaho, Maine, Missouri, and Texas – as they worked to implement guidelines adopted by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) to ensure the just, prompt, and cost-effective resolution of civil cases in state courts.  IAALS and NCSC provided each state with the guidance and tools necessary to support successful implementation, and then circled back to interview those involved.  The experiences of the states in this report, and their use of Transforming Our Civil Justice System for the 21st Century: A Roadmap for Implementation – a set of seven clear steps for courts to follow when implementing change – can provide invaluable guidance to other courts.  The Roadmap steps provide a key framework for reform that states can follow leadership; assessment and definition of issues; engagement of stakeholders to gain input; development of vision and goals for reform; clear recommendations; and action.