Family law cases focus on some of the most intimate, emotional, and all-encompassing aspects of parties' personal lives. Based on its study of unmet legal needs of children and their families, the American Bar Association has recommended the establishment of unified family courts in all jurisdictions. This article evaluates how America's courts adjudicate family law matters and advocates systemic change by offering an interdisciplinary ecological and therapeutic approach to the creation of unified family courts. The author presents a comprehensive overview of the results of her nationwide survey determining how each state's courts handle family law matters. The results of her survey illustrate the need for a unified family court system in matters of family law. A five-part blueprint to construct a unified family court is proposed. First, the court should have a specialized structure with judges who fully understand the legal and social issues facing family law litigants. The specialized court should be at the same level as a trial court of general jurisdiction, and the court should receive the same resources and support as the generalist courts. Second, the court should have comprehensive subject-matter jurisdiction over the full range of family law matters. The third component is an efficient case management and case processing system with a one judge/one case approach. Fourth, the court must offer alternative dispute resolution services and other court-connected social services to the family. Finally, the unified family court should be user-friendly, accessible to participation by all, including the large proportion of pro se family law litigants. The author advocates that a unified family court is a justice system reform having the greatest potential to enhance family law decision-making, thereby improving families' and children's lives.
Fashioning an Interdisciplinary Framework for Court Reform in Family Law: A Blueprint to Construct a Unified Family Court, 71 S. Cal. L. Rev. 469 (1998)