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. 

Triage Tracking and Community of Practice

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) will establish a national community of courts that leverage data to streamline the management of family cases. This will be achieved through several key actions, including convening an initial cohort of three to four courts with data capacity. The project will also promote the adoption of best practices in data visualization, case management, and triage by providing standardized templates for case-level reports and dashboard design.

Further, a Data Gym will be organized to build the courts’ data capacity through evaluating the impact of their data strategies and applying typical family court scenarios to test strength. The project will evaluate the outcomes of the initial cohort, disseminate fact sheets and training resources, and host webinars to simultaneously recruit the next cohort of courts and promote the project’s adoption by other courts nationally.

Enhancing State Court Efforts to Address Child Abuse and Neglect

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) will increase knowledge among a national audience of juvenile court judges and court management professionals regarding dependency court improvement. This will be accomplished by standardizing three existing dependency court evaluation research databases to analyze variables with strong relationships to improved outcomes and translating these findings to practitioners through model case management reports.

Keeping Families Together: Preserving and Reunifying Families with Substance Use Disorder Through a Family Recovery Court

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington will develop and refine a multilevel Family Recovery Court that promotes recovery, reunification, and well-being among families with SUD in child welfare. Through a three-pronged approach and community partnership, the FRC targets the following three principles: 1) keeping families together; 2) ensuring child safety, permanency, and well-being; and 3) advancing the development of adequate resources.

Office of Parent Conflict Attorneys Project

The Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania (Allegheny County), Family Court Division has started a project to create an interdisciplinary Office of Parent Conflict Attorneys (OPCA) to respond to the continuously growing demand for conflict counsel. Specifically, counsel will represent indigent parents in child welfare hearings. This project will support a project manager who will be able to successfully establish and evaluate the OPCA.

Enhancing State Court Efforts to Address Child Abuse and Neglect

Building upon the National Center for State Courts’ (NCSC) Remote Proceedings Toolkit, NCSC will develop a supplemental guide that provides courts with virtual hearing guidance specifically related to child welfare proceedings.  This supplemental guide will provide policy, practice, and technological recommendations to help courts ensure that virtual dependency proceedings are fair, accessible, and support best practices.

10-Year Retrospective on Civil Discovery Reforms

The Utah Judicial Branch, with support from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) will update evaluation findings of its civil justice reforms; document efforts to engage civil justice stakeholders; and investigate stakeholder perceptions of the revision’s impact on civil justice system and legal practice. Deliverables will include a technical report and executive summary; a briefing paper on effective stakeholder engagement; and presentations to judicial and civil bar stakeholder organizations.

Automating Family Justice Triage

The National Center for State Courts will convene the Cady Partners, along with experts in trauma-informed technology approaches in family law, to prototype a triage process that identifies risk and the services needed to resolve family cases. The project includes adapting the Automated Civil Triage and Caseflow Management Requirements to family law; piloting prototypes; studying the impacts; and continuing efforts to study, refine, implement and publicize the project and outcomes. 

A Critical Case Management Tool: Supporting Behavior Transitions

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC), in partnership with the Maricopa County Superior Court Family Department (MCSC), is designing and implementing an asynchronous “Behavioral Transition” course for the benefit of MCSC and other courts across the country.  The curriculum will focus on early intervention in cases that demonstrate high conflict features; address the behavioral aspects of parties referred to as “high conflict”; provide a much needed and nationally distributed model to benefit other jurisdictions; and build upon the work of the Cady Initiative for Family Justice Reform.   

Domestic Violence AWARE Project: Helping Courts Implement Protocols for DV Analysis, Warnings, Action, Recovery, and Engagement and Building the Training Capacity of States while Meeting the Security Needs of Courts and Families

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.

During Phase 2 of the project, DV AWARE project partners will pilot and refine the curriculum and other tools developed through the Domestic Violence AWARE Project to prepare a Train the Trainer curriculum.

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.  Additionally, the project is being evaluated through the development of a set of practical tools to facilitate an empirical and risk-based regulatory framework for legal services, including a regulatory management system, creation of a best practices handbook, and creation of a lessons learned monograph on the Utah model for legal services regulation.

Piloting the Civil Case Management Team Model

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is partnering with the Iowa Judicial Branch and the Kansas Judicial Branch to provide an educational workshop on the implementation of the Civil Case Management Team (CCMT) staffing model for civil and family courts.  The workshop will provide an interactive experience in which courts will learn about the CCMT, implementation strategies, and develop strategic implementation plans for their respective courts.

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.

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.   

The final phase of this project builds and expands upon the previously created resources and offers training and technical assistance. The project uses the forums of conference sessions, recorded webinars, and a special journal issue focused on understanding and serving miliary-connected families to provide education and training to judges. The project also develops and provides readily accessible tools such as bench cards that judges in any locale at any time can access and use and that offer guidance and a level of practical specificity that will help with case decision-making. Another tool, the community resource map, will be created to assist judges in knowing who to connect with in their civilian community and in the appropriate military community for service access and coordination. The community resource map will aid judges in identifying gaps in services, processes, and communication.

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.

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.