Why it’s important
Many courts are seeking new ways to better manage and resolve difficult, emotionally-charged divorce cases in ways that more appropriately meet the needs of individual families. By applying the principles of the High Performance Court Framework, a domestic relations court can develop and implement a triage process to meaningfully differentiate cases, making it possible to streamline the process for uncontested divorces, while preserving limited court staff time and resources for contested cases and families needing greater attention.
Many courts process divorce cases linearly, each case moving through the same set of prescribed steps. In this model, families are presented with a tiered set of services that specify how a case will move from initial contact with the court through progressively more intrusive and directive services and proceedings. This approach burdens those where both sides are largely in agreement and just want to have the case resolved in timely fashion, while siphoning resources away from families that may truly benefit from enhanced services.
A number of courts – some very urban, with high numbers of filings – have found a better way to address families coming before the court. Miami, Florida and the State of Connecticut provide examples of jurisdictions that have developed triage processes to link available resources to the families who most need them. Triage has also been implemented and studied in Nova Scotia, Toronto and New Zealand. NCSC studied these models then worked to deconstruct elements of successful divorce case triage in order to develop tools that could be applied nationally, in concert with the High Performance Court Framework.
Developing a divorce case screening tool
To support courts interested in pursuing divorce case triage, the National Center for State Courts, in collaboration with the states of Colorado, Ohio, and Utah, received funding from the State Justice Institute to develop a model screening tool. With guidance and input from an advisory committee comprised of domestic relations experts, the NCSC designed a screening instrument that courts can use to determine which families need little to no court services.
See the tool
This tool serves as a model or a guide to help courts identify which types of questions to ask the families, to help them determine which track a litigant should be place on and whether the litigant needs minimal or no court assistance. The ultimate purpose of the tool is to ascertain that litigants who are ready to complete the process (uncontested) do not get lost in the system or forced into services that they do not want or need. Since processes and procedures differ greatly from court to court, the tool was not designed as a one-size-fits-all instrument. Rather, the design is sufficiently flexible to be readily adapted to fit a court’s specific jurisdiction.
Read the final report on the development of the screening tool.
Over the course of the project, NCSC staff reviewed screening tools used in other jurisdiction as a means to determine meaningful and appropriate questions. Summary of these tools.
Thomas Clarke and Victor Flango, Case Triage for the 21st Century, Future Trends in State Courts (2011).
Peter Salem, The Emergence of Triage in Family Court Services: The Beginning of the End for Mandatory Mediation?, Family Court Review, Vol. 47 No. 3 (July 2009).
Peter Salem, Debra Kulak and Robin M. Deutsch, Triaging Family Court Services: The Connecticut Judicial Branch’s Family Civil Intake Screen, Pace Law Review, Vol. 27 No. 4 (2007).
Domestic Violence Interview Guide form and instructions.