Litigant and Advocate Input Group

The Elkins Family Law Task Force convened for a one-day meeting on April 6, 2009 to provide a special opportunity for family law litigants and advocates to address the Task Force directly. The Litigant and Advocate Input Group allowed the Task Force to hear suggestions and responses directly from litigants and advocates about how to improve the processes and procedures for everyone involved in family law proceedings.

Frequently Asked Questions from April 6 meeting

The Elkins Family Law Task Force is responsible for making recommendations to the Judicial Council of California to improve processes and procedures in family courts. It will be most helpful for your input to address the specific improvements you think are needed. Please keep in mind that the Task Force needs to hear about systemic issues, not the details of a particular case.

The Task Force welcomes comments on the following focus areas:

Research & Best Practices

1A. Early Intervention & ADR
1B. Parentage & New Family Realities
1C. Family Law Research Agenda

Representation

2A. Presenting Live Testimony
2B. Representation in Family Law
2C. Increasing Representation in Family Law
2D. Encourage Limited Scope Representation
2E. Expanding the Practice of Family Law
2F. Assistance to Self-Represented Litigants
2G. Early Court Intervention
2H. Minor's Counsel

Process Improvements

3A. Case Management
3B. Comprehensive statewide rules of court
3C. Reviewing family law forms and processes
3D. Education on Family Law Process
3E. Child custody mediation

Improving the Status and Respect for Family Law

4A. Procedural Fairness
4B. Education
4C. Communication
4D. Advocacy 
4E. Leadership

The Task Force is also interested in hearing from litigants and advocates on the following questions:

5. What's working well in family court?
6. What needs to be improved in family court?
7. What's needed to remove barriers?
8. What services do litigants need most?
9. I have other, specific suggestions

Research & Best Practices

This working group is focused on big picture, long-term possibilities for changes and reforms in family law. The working group is looking to courts in California, the United States, and in other countries to explore possible changes.

1A. Early Intervention & ADR
The TF is considering a range of resolution models to fit litigants' needs, and tailor the level of services to issues in case. We are discussing more frequent and earlier opportunities for mediation and alternative dispute resolution of all appropriate issues

1B. Parentage & New Family Realities
The TF recognizes that increasing number of court users no longer fit traditional nuclear family structure, and may have different needs. The TF is considering adding educational and self-help programs to accommodate diverse family structures

1C. Family Law Research Agenda
Family courts need more and better data to make informed decisions. The TF is considering a family law research agenda that would include statewide statistical reporting, more differentiated caseload/workload studies, snapshot studies of family court users, and studies of new programs/services

Representation

This working group will make recommendations about how to ensure access to fair and impartial justice in the simplest to the most complex cases. The working group is seeking input from represented and self-represented parties about what they need and how to increase the availability of representation.

2A. Presenting Live Testimony
The TF is exploring the importance of live testimony to the court when certain factors are present, regardless of the stage of the proceeding.

2B. Representation in Family Law
The TF believes that litigants are best served by having attorneys to represent them at all stages of their cases, but recognizes that there will continue to be significant numbers of self-represented litigants. Family law courts must provide effective service to both represented and self-represented litigants.

2C. Increasing Representation in Family Law
The TF is considering earlier awards of needs-based attorney's fees; encouraging more mentoring and internships to increase representation in family law.

2D. Encourage Limited Scope Representation
The TF is exploring "unbundling" of legal services to help address economic challenges faced by family law litigants and practitioners. [Unbundling is providing legal representation in a limited, specific part of a case.]

2E. Expanding the Practice of Family Law
The TF is seeking strategies to encourage attorneys to enter the field of family law

2F. Assistance to Self-Represented Litigants
The TF is concerned about continued adequate, stable funding for ongoing and expanded court self-help centers, as well as adequate funding for legal services programs that provide assistance in family matters

2G. Early Court Intervention
The TF is considering ways to provide: early court intervention to support case stabilization and resolution; education for parties about court processes; assessment of specific case needs; identification of the more complex aspects for which attorney services are most needed; and increased access to attorneys, and other ancillary professionals, on these complex aspects of cases through unbundled, low cost & and pro bono services

2H. Minor's Counsel
The TF is looking at the role of minor's counsel in family law cases

Process Improvements

This working group is focusing on the critical changes that are needed to improve practice and procedure in the current environment. The working group is considering proposed changes to rules, practices, and procedures in family law, with a primary focus on fair, consistent, effective, and efficient trial and hearing practice.

3A. Case Management
The TF is considering recommendations to provide greater statutory authority for courts to manage cases, as well as rules of court for case management, without creating barriers to court access. The TF seeks to identify best practices for caseflow and operations; clarify next steps for litigants and provide more settlement options to resolve matters without need for court hearings when appropriate; and incorporate checkpoints to ensure that cases are not "lost in the system."

3B. Comprehensive Statewide Rules of Court
The TF is reviewing statewide and local family law rules. The TF is considering incorporating civil rules that apply to family law so that there is one consistent place to look for rules, and identifying local rules that should become part of statewide rules of court.

3C. Reviewing family law forms and processes
The TF is identifying specific problems with family law forms and processes and will suggest changes to be addressed by Judicial Council, or through legislation, as needed.

The TF is exploring expansion of summary dissolution limits.

3D. Education on Family Law Process
The TF is collecting existing resources, identifying what can be made available for statewide use; considering Information sheets and resources that can be available for statewide use; expanding on-line resources including videos; expanding self-help services to explain and assist with processes.

3E. Child custody mediation
The TF will explore issues related to child custody mediation - process and procedure.

Improving the Status of and Respect for Family Law Litigants and Family Law

This working group is focusing on the leadership, education, support, and resources that are needed to improve the status of, and respect for, family law and litigants and has initially focused on the need to develop education, communication, and advocacy. In addition, the need for sufficient resources to provide the services necessary to meet litigants' diverse needs in family law will be a major focus of this working group's efforts.

4A. Procedural Fairness
The four components of procedural fairness -- trust, respect, voice, and neutrality -- will serve as ideal measures of success for the anticipated recommendations related to education, communications, advocacy, and leadership.

4B. Education
The TF is considering education as a means to improve the family law system - this would include both internally and externally to a variety of participants in the system: judges, attorneys, court employees, litigants.

4C. Communication
The TF is considering ways to comprehensively improve communication between the courts and: litigants, attorneys, community groups, mediators, interpreters, court leaders, presiding judges, policymakers, and other service providers.

4D. Advocacy
The TF is building the case for reforms in family law seeking better outcomes for children and families, and more effective and responsive Family Courts. The TF is undertaking several efforts to advocate for improvements by collecting information about the bench, the courts, existing services, emerging trends, and more.

4E. Leadership
The TF believes that effective communication, education, and advocacy all depend upon leadership. The TF is exploring full implementation of Standard of Judicial Administration 5.30 as one way to enhance leadership and improve outcomes for children and families.

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