One weakness that covid exposed in many state judicial systems was the back log of family law cases which could not be addressed while courthouses were being shut down. Each state handled matters in their own way, but many adapted a new set of protocols based upon the multi-state triage and pathways model.
I was fortunate to give an introduction to this new model last week via zoom for some local family therapists so we could talk about the advantages that families may receive from this new system. Some of the complaints that we have heard from clients over the years are that it seems impossible to move a divorce matter forward without having to spend countless hours stuck in courthouse hallways waiting to be seen by a judge. Sometimes it will take more than one visit to the courthouse before a judge ever really gets to learn about the case. Many times, the case goes to various family relations officers several times before a hearing is even scheduled.
Under the new rules, states are finding ways to get the most dire cases before a judge as quickly as possible. In a manner similar to medical triage in an emergency room, this reserves court resources for the matters which need them most; and creates a path for the less severe cases to work together to resolve their own questions.
The new model is designed to limit the necessity of courthouse attendance and focus on the clients and professionals identifying what information they will need in order to resolve their differences, and then getting that information without protracted court time. One benefit of this approach is that clients become central actors in their own divorce process. Instead of waiting for lawyers and judges to tell them what to do next, the clients are responsible directly to court family relations officers in accomplishing certain basic tasks.
This makes divorces more case-specific and results in better outcomes for the family–financially and emotionally.
Another surprise outcome of courthouses being shut down is that judges are now more likely to hold online meetings and to rule on matters by reviewing paperwork without having to have attorneys and clients present in the courthouse. This saves everyone the time and aggravation of getting to and from courthouses and being part of a cattle call while they are there.
Last week I was involved in an online status conference for a courthouse over an hour form my office. In the old days (16 months ago!); I would have driven the two hours round trip, spent an hour in the courthouse waiting my turn to see the judge, and then had 5–10 minutes in front of a judge who was likely distracted by a courtroom full of people waiting their turns. That is more than 3 hours of my time.If another attorney is on the case, the family would be paying for 6 hours of legal fees.
Instead, I tuned into my allotted online platform at 9:15 a.m. and had a non-distracted 6-minute conversation with the judge.I left the call and sent specific instructions to clients, who are only being charged 15 minutes for the entire interaction.
What We Love: Better outcome for less money–now that’s a silver lining!