University of Denver

Out-of-Court Divorce Processes Need Exposure; Court Processes Need Improvement

Director of Special Projects

A recent survey in the United Kingdom asked respondents for their opinions on both court and non-court proceedings for divorcing couples. Overall, only 51 percent of those surveyed indicated they would consider non-court alternatives and only one-fourth believed that non-court proceedings protect parties' rights. Survey respondents were largely split on whether non-court alternatives are better for the wellbeing of couples or children. According to a spokeswoman for the surveyor, these findings suggest “at best a patchy understanding about non-court based solutions that often prove less stressful and less expensive than a lengthy courtroom battle.”

The IAALS Honoring Families Initiative recognizes the benefits of non-court/out-of-court processes for families in transition from separation or divorce. The traditional in-court, adversarial process can drive families apart and heighten animosity during an already emotionally charged time. Instead, what many families really need is access to problem-solving and planning services that empower them to reach their own decisions on family reorganization and financial issues. While advocating out-of-court alternatives where appropriate, HFI is equally committed to ensuring that in-court processes for divorce and allocation of parental responsibility are accessible, efficient, and fair. This recent U.K. survey illustrates the fundamental importance of well-functioning court processes: citizens rely on the courts if they are separating or divorcing, either because they are in need of the court's core functions of judicial fact finding and enforcement or because, as the survey illustrates, they do not otherwise avail themselves of out-of-court alternatives.

Since its inception in early 2012, the work of the Honoring Families Initiative has been focused on the parallel tracks of in-court processes and out-of-court alternatives. With respect to the latter, in September 2013, an HFI out-of-court, interdisciplinary service model for separating and divorcing families was implemented at the University of Denver. The Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families provides an array of services for families who wish to avoid the delays and costs of court. We are undertaking a comprehensive, three-year evaluation of this project to ensure that its successes can be replicated. Turning to the in-court processes for separation and divorce, and parental responsibility matters, we are currently identifying problematic and high-impact areas to focus our work in the coming years.

Whether in-court or out-of-court, our ultimate goal is to help establish processes and procedures that truly honor families.