The volume and scope of family law cases in contemporary American society, as well as their unending nature both individually and systemically, exacerbate the difficulty of their resolution. To address this crisis, the American Bar Association and others have recommended court reform, specifically, the establishment of unified family courts in all jurisdictions. A unified family court is a single forum within which to adjudicate the full range of family law issues, based on the notion that court effectiveness and efficiency increase when the court resolves a family's legal problems in as few appearances as possible. The model is based on the concept that a court with a comprehensive view of all of a family's legal problems can resolve issues more quickly and capably than can a system requiring the family to appear in several different tribunals for similar matters. This article evaluates how America's courts currently adjudicate family law matters. The article provides a comprehensive overview of the results of a nationwide survey determining how each state handles family law matters. The survey results reveal variety and inconsistency in how America's courts process family law cases, illustrating the need for a restructuring of the family legal system. Some problems noted by the study include conflicting jurisdiction among courts, unpredictable decision-making, a waste of judicial and litigant resources, successive appeals, and inefficient court administration. The article urges each state to conduct a comprehensive analysis of its existing family justice system. It advocates that reformers look to fundamental principles of unified family courts as a means to guide court reform efforts. States must acknowledge and live up to their responsibility to overhaul outdated and ineffective family justice systems.
Where We Stand: An Analysis of America's Family Law Adjudicatory Systems and the Mandate to Establish Unified Family Courts, 32 Fam. L.Q. 31 (1998)