University of Denver

Court Compass

The family justice system was built on the assumption that litigants would be represented by lawyers, but more and more family court litigants do not have attorneys. IAALS launched the Court Compass project to explore user-friendly, streamlined, and accessible solutions that help people through the divorce and separation process—even when they cannot afford to or choose not to hire an attorney.

Director of Special Projects
Senior Legal Assistant


  • To redesign and simplify the divorce process, making full use of the existing technological landscape and emerging tools and technologies. By providing court users a Court Compass to navigate the process, IAALS hopes that self-represented and represented parties alike can access a better process and achieve better outcomes.

More and more people in family court—the place where most Americans will interact with the justice system—are navigating the legal system without an attorney at their side.

Our Cases Without Counsel study of self-representation in family court confirmed that many self-represented litigants cannot afford an attorney and that the court process is very difficult without legal help. In consideration of these findings and others, including well-established national data on self-representation, IAALS launched the Court Compass.

Technology is also an essential component of a streamlined and simplified process. Digital solutions can empower litigants with tools, information, and assistance to navigate the process. But technology alone is not enough to overcome exceptionally complicated processes. To make the process simpler for litigants, we must first simplify the process. 

The Court Compass project is building on the approach taken in Cases Without Counsel and directly incorporating court users in the process of designing a simpler process for divorce and separation. Through a series of user-centric design sprints where self-represented litigants and court stakeholders gather to map out existing pain points in the process and prototype test solutions in real time, IAALS is gathering research to inform the development of a simplified, technology-empowered process for divorcing and separating families.

IAALS formerly housed this work under its Honoring Families Initiative until 2018.

Research into Existing Technology Solutions for Family Court Users

As part of the preliminary project research for Court Compass, IAALS held a convening in 2016 on technology-enabled tools for litigants that highlighted both the challenges of current (and often disparate) technology solutions and the opportunities for increased integration between these solutions.

Following the event, IAALS compiled a database of court technology offerings in production or in development around the country. The high-level findings and summary analysis were published in Mapping the Future of User Access through Technology and accompanied by maturity models to guide and facilitate integrated court solutions. This research helped identify both existing court resources and existing opportunities for innovative system solutions.

Recent IAALS research on self-representation in family courts suggests that litigants would benefit greatly from having assistance navigating the court process. In June 2016, IAALS brought together...
In June 2016, IAALS convened a group of people from around the country to discuss the development of an online tool designed to help people with potential legal problems in the family court arena and...
Our studies show that the court system does an insufficient job helping people navigate their way through the system to resolution. People feel frustrated, lost, disempowered, and disillusioned by...

User-Centric Research into Problems and Potential Solutions

In partnership with experts at Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab, Northeastern School of Law’s NuLawLab, and the University of Maine School of Law, IAALS is conducting in-person design workshops and other focus groups in a handful of jurisdictions around the country:  

  • January 26, 2018 – Andover, Massachusetts
  • April 21, 2018 – Des Moines, Iowa
  • May 5, 2018 – Andover, Massachusetts
  • August 11, 2018 – Raleigh, North Carolina
  • November 3, 2018 – Denver, Colorado

These workshops bring together self-represented litigants in divorce and separation cases along with court system insiders, such as judges, court staff, legal aid representatives, attorneys, and others to test new processes and solutions in real time and refine them based on user feedback.

This guide provides courts and similar organizations with the tools to create their own design sprint workshops wherein they can solicit the knowledge and experience from both self-represented...
This report details findings from our interactive Court Compass design sprint workshops, where we led self-represented litigants and court stakeholders in identifying problems people face in...

Simplify and Redefine the Divorce and Separation Process

With an understanding of existing court technology tools and user-generated prototyped solutions that respond to well-understood user pain points, IAALS and key stakeholders will develop a model for a simplified divorce and separation process.

  • Margaret Hagan, Director of Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School 
  • Dan Jackson, Executive Director of NuLawLab at Northeastern University School of Law
  • Lois Lupica, University of Maine School of Law
  • Iowa Judicial Branch
  • North Carolina Judicial Branch
  • North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission