The current family justice system often works against the capacity of parents to reach fair, amicable, and cooperative solutions. The adversarial nature of the court process can have a profound negative impact on parties’ emotions and finances—many times, it has an even greater and longer-lasting impact on children. IAALS is developing new approaches that better meet the needs of families and children by providing access to comprehensive problem-solving services.

Objective:

  • To encourage a family-centered approach for couples with children who want to end their partnership or marriage through compassionate, holistic divorce resolution.

Modeled in part after the highly successful Australian Family Relationship Centres, IAALS' out-of-court model for divorcing and separating families encourages families, particularly those with children, to consider less-adversarial means of ending their partnerships. The entire process, including the granting of the final divorce decree, happens outside of the courtroom. This innovative process leverages interdisciplinary services and an environment that empowers parents to work together towards positive outcomes for their children.

A full evaluation IAALS' out-of-court model for separation and divorce was released in 2019. The report presents insights into the model as well as data from a robust evaluation on how the two interations of the Center operated—both within a university setting and within the broader community. The evaluation assessed many aspects of the process, including the population served, utilization of services, program timeline, and impact on families.

We hope that this report will serve as an informational resource, both in terms of successes and lessons learned, to guide future implementation of this model and similar models.

Read and download the report.

 

 

Project Team:

Phase One: The On-Campus Center

IAALS first implemented the out-of-court model in the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families (RCSDF), which opened on the University of Denver campus on September 3, 2013. RCSDF was a partnership between IAALS, the Sturm College of Law, the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, and the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. Law students and graduate students in both social work and psychology ran the Center and provided multi-disciplinary legal dispute resolution services in addition to therapeutic and educational services to separating and divorcing families. 

During the two years that the Center was in service on the University’s campus, 82 families (164 parents and 160 children) received services from the Center.

Parents who used the Center’s services showed statistically significant:

  • Decreases in parental depression, anxiety and stress;
  • Decreases in levels of acrimony between the parents;
  • Increases in co-parenting decision-making skills;
  • Improvements in parental communication skills (increased collaborative style and decreased violent style);
  • Increases in the degree of confidence in their ability to co-parent;
  • Decreases in their levels of parenting stress (parental distress, parent–child dysfunctional relationships and perceptions of children as difficult);
  • Increases in appropriate parental emotional expectations of children; and
  • Decreases in their perceptions of their child's social isolation (no other child behaviors changed significantly).

The RCSDF was proof of concept; after seeing favorable evaluation results, IAALS and partners moved the on-campus center into the community, staffing it with licensed professionals rather than graduate students. The new center was renamed the Center for Out-of-Court Divorce (COCD).

Phase Two: The Community-Based Center

In September 2015, IAALS opened the Center for Out-of-Court Divorce, which was established as a free-standing, not-for-profit entity in the Denver community, staffed by licensed, expert mental health professionals and lawyers.

COCD provided a multitude of services, including:

  • Family counseling;
  • Interviews with children about their concerns;
  • Co-parent planning and preparation;
  • Financial education and budget planning;
  • Legal education;
  • Legal document drafting;
  • Mediation; and
  • Divorce support groups for parents and children.

The Center also supported families experiencing challenges after divorce, with counseling, mediation, and co-parenting services. This community-based Center closed at the end of 2017, with results very similar to that from the on-campus model. The challenge was financial—developing a business and marketing model that would allow the Center to be self-sustaining.

IAALS continues to encourage and support innovative models that allow parties to develop their own solutions for their families, with children as the focus.

Partners
  • University of Denver Sturm College of Law
  • University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology
  • University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work 
  • Colorado Judicial Court
  • Association of Family and Conciliation Courts

Family Justice Advisory Committee (2012–2021)

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.

Jeff Hall
Trial Court Administrator, Deschutes County (OR) Circuit Court
Paul J. De Muniz
Distinguished Jurist in Residence, Willamette University College of Law
Peter Salem
Executive Director, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts
Andrew Schepard
Sidney and Walter Siben Distinguished Professor of Law, Maurice A. Deane School of Law, Hofstra University
Stacey Platt
Clinical Professor of Law & Associate Director, Civitas ChildLaw Clinic, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Barbara A. Babb
Associate Professor of Law and Director, Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts, University of Baltimore School of Law
Howard Markman
Co-Director, Center for Marital and Family Studies, University of Denver
Janice M. Rosa
Supervising Judge of Family Courts (Ret.), Buffalo and Western New York