Reflecting on the Unified Family Court Structure

By Daniel Gordon, CFCC Student Fellow 2013-2014

As someone who has interned at a Family Law firm, it came as quite a shock to hear about the concept of a unified family court for the first time this semester. It seemed with all the benefits a unified family court could provide, one would think this type of court would be offered everywhere. A unified family court is a single court system composed of highly trained, specially assigned judges who preside over cases addressing the issues relating to children and families. This type of court implements a one case to one judge or one team type system.

With this system in place, a judge will be assigned to a family law case and handle all their related family legal needs. This allows one judge to become quite familiar with a case and family assigned to them. Instead of having several judges assigned to different issues, one judge would stay with the same family throughout the case. This prevents conflicting orders being issued by different judges. If more than one judge was assigned to a separate issue for a family, it would be possible for that court to issue an order that conflicts with another judge’s order. Overall, having this one judge to one case model is more efficient and personal for families in their time of need.

However, with all the benefits a unified family court can offer, there are bound to be some flaws. In a divorce case for instance, one parent may feel like the judge is being biased against them. In a case like that, the parent would prefer to have a different judge assigned to several legal issues rather than being stuck with the same judge throughout their entire legal process. That parent may feel like the judge is out to get them and side with the other parent regardless of the issue.

The main question comes down to: Do unified family courts have the potential to do more good or exacerbate possible harm? What do you think?

0 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Unified Family Court Structure

  1. Great post Dan! While I do believe the unified court model is efficient and effective, I too grapple with the idea of what happens when you have a judge, or team member that is bias towards one parent. Or even having one Judge throughout the entirety of the family's legal journey, what if the Judge develops a bias towards one side over time. While this is a potential flaw of the Unified Court Model, I believe that the benefits outweigh the flaws. With the Unified Family Court employing a Therapeutic Jurisprudence approach in an effort to diagnose and help resolve the families issues is by far beneficial for all parties involved (the court, parents, and most importantly children). Perhaps one way to combat this potential flaw is to ensure that all the team members are trained on a regular basis that can also serve as a check-in. This could help the team members realize if they are becoming desensitized to systemic issues and while learning how to overcome and prevent developing biases. Seeing Unified Court Models in action, I do believe that they do more good than harm or perhaps I'm just biased 🙂

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