About this Project

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Adapting to today's families

The evolving nature of family dynamics requires courts to respond with innovative models to help resolve family matters and improve access and quality of justice. Courts across the country deal with emotional and often legally and factually challenging cases that can lead to high turnover of court professional staff and judges.

The Family Justice Initiative (FJI) sets forth a model that draws upon data-informed strategies to assist the resolution of family matters. Through screening and assement tools, and triage case management, judges and court staff can better identify cases that require substantial court-based or community services, and cases requiring minimal court resources and little or no exercise of judicial discretion.

Accurate identification of what cases need helps the court refer parties to targeted services and make the best use of judicial time and resources on cases that need it the most. The FJI also identifies automated processes, assisted forms and alternative legal representation models that equip families with the understanding to navigate the legal process. By providing families the services they need so they sped less money on litigation and less time in court, parties will feel more satisfied with the justice system when it serves them more efficiently.

Background
In Fall 2017, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) with support from the State Justice Institute (SJI) launched the Family Justice Initiative (FJI) Project to evaluate and improve the way state courts handle domestic relations cases. The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges supported this work alongside NCSC. The FJI Project is modeled on that of the CCJ Civil Justice Improvements Project which resulted in the recommendations for civil justice reform contained in A Call to Action: Achieving Civil Justice for All.

  • Phase 1 entailed an assessment of the current landscape and best practices in domestic relations cases, and the project released the first-of-its-kind study, the FJI Landscape Report  in October 2018. The study looked at 11 jurisdictions across the nation.
  • Phase 2 had the FJI Advisory Committee developing bold recommendations for family justice reform – contained in the Family Justice Initiative: Principles for Family Justice Reform and the supplemental A Model Process for Family Justice Initiative Pathways.
  • Phase 3 entails the implementation of the Principles in four pilot courts across the country: Miami-Dade County, Forida; King County, Washington; Pima County, Arizona; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio.