Redefining Access to Justice: Kourlis and Schepard on Denver’s Divorce Alternative

For separating and divorcing families, access to justice can be hard to come by. Our traditional, court-driven model de-emphasizes parents’ (and children’s) long-term interests, fosters expensive legal fees, and lacks important services that can help families reorganize in a well-rounded way. But, in a recent article for the ABA’s Dispute Resolution Magazine, Denver’s pioneering Center for Out-of-Court Divorce (COCD) is discussed as a bright new future for the process—one that centers on problem solving and holistic outcomes.

In “Redefining Access to Justice for Separating and Divorcing Families,” IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Love Kourlis and Honoring Families Initiative Advisory Committee Member and Advisor Andrew Schepard explain how COCD provides an effective and affordable alternative for separating and divorcing families by providing all the services families need: mediation, education on the legal process, counseling for parents and children, and financial planning assistance—all leading to final resolution of the legal process without ever having to step foot in a courtroom.

Parents who took advantage of the Center’s services during its first two years of operation benefitted greatly from their participation, and reported decreases in depression, anxiety, and stress related to their separation or divorce. In addition, participants showed significant increases in their ability to co-parent and communicate with their former spouses as a result of their experience with the Center.

Kourlis and Schepard believe that the Center’s success can be replicated across the country as a viable alternative to the adversarial court process. By evolving into a non-profit community based model, the Center for Out-of-Court Divorce has achieved financial sustainability while retaining the capacity to offer custom-tailored services for families. The availability of these services help parents make decisions that support healthy futures, conserve financial resources, and promote a positive environment for raising children. For families in search of resolution, the innovative approach implemented by COCD has the ability to make justice more accessible and affordable than ever before.

"The Resource Center experience confirms that all parents do not need to be represented by their own lawyer to navigate separation and divorce. For many families, a coordinated system of service delivery in which access to legal information, mediation, and drafting is available within the context of a multi- disciplinary service delivery system that serves their long-term interests better than the traditional model. Advocates of increasing access to justice should 'Go West' to Denver to get a vision of what the future can look like."

Mark Staines is a second-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.

Mentioned Content 
Our Center provides positive solutions for families in transition and offers a suite of interdisciplinary services, all in one location.