Family Justice Initiative
The Family Justice Initiative is a project of IAALS, the National Center for State Courts, the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, with funding from the State Justice Institute. The project is designed to evaluate and improve the way courts handle domestic relations cases.
- To develop guidelines and best practices for domestic relations case processing, for the purpose of making family courts less adversarial, more efficient—particularly for those individuals who use the courts without the help of an attorney—and more responsive to the needs of the families involved in litigation.
- To support implementation of the Principles for Family Justice Reform nationwide and help family courts evolve to meet changing needs and expectations.
In August 2016, the Conference of Chief Justices’ Civil Justice Improvements Committee released—and the Conference adopted—Call to Action: Achieving Civil Justice for All, outlining a comprehensive set of recommendations for civil justice reform. The Committee charge was limited to civil cases, and the National Center for State Courts recently launched a corollary project to explore domestic relations cases—the Family Justice Initiative (FJI).
The first stage of the FJI project, modeled on the process used in the Civil Justice Initiative, involved assessing the landscape of and best practices in domestic relations cases. The Principles developed from these findings and from research derived from innovative programs around the country cover a broad spectrum of improvements to the way domestic relationship cases are handled. The Principles were adopted by the Conference of Chief Justices and will be pilot tested in four jurisdictions.
IAALS formerly housed this work under its Honoring Families Initiative until 2018.
IAALS, in partnership with the National Center for State Courts and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, undertook the first large, aggregate examination of how family court cases are litigated in state courts. The FJI Landscape study documents the caseload characteristics of domestic relations cases across 11 large, urban courts and confirms what we have long known at IAALS: family courts must do more to focus on problem solving rather than rely on the traditional structure framed around an adversarial approach.
The Landscape report informed the conversation around developing recommendations to guide the way courts handle domestic relations cases.
The Family Justice Initiative was comprised of a subcommittee of the CCJ/COSCA Courts, Children and Families Committee, chaired by Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court, and staffed by IAALS, NCSC, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
The ultimate recommendations, detailed in the Principles for Family Justice Reform, seek to make family courts less adversarial, more efficient—particularly for those individuals who use the courts without the help of an attorney—and more responsive to the needs of the families involved in litigation. At the heart of the 13 Principles is a shift in the way courts handle domestic relations cases that emphasizes problem solving and cooperation between parties, especially when children are involved. The Principles also establish a triage pathway system that matches cases and parties to appropriate resources and services both within and outside the court. A Model Process for Family Justice Initiative Pathways report accompanies the Principles and sets forth best practices for the triage approach.
The Conference of Chief Justices adopted the Principles by resolution in February 2019.
Implementation and Evaluation
With recommendations for domestic relations case processing in hand, FJI partners will identify a number of jurisdictions in which to pilot the recommendations.
- National Center for State Courts (NCSC)
- Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ)
- Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA)
- National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)
- State Justice Institute
The members of the Family Justice Advisory Committee have been invaluable partners to IAALS since the launch of our Honoring Families Initiative in 2012. Comprised of leaders in family justice reform, the committee was integral to the founding of our on-campus Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families and the community-based Center for Out-of-Court Divorce, and advised us on many other family justice reform efforts.