PROPOSALS FOR HELPING JUDGES
- ESTABLISH A MEDIATION PANEL TO REDUCE NUMBER OF CASES FOR HEARINGS
The Superior Court maintains “panels” or lists of professionals who provide child custody evaluations services, parent education groups and co-parent counseling services. A similar list of professionals who provide mediation could be very helpful. The court could require the child custody mediators to provide pro bono services as a requirement for being on the list. Volunteer attorney mediators have already been helping settle cases at no cost to the court, although the ADR program at the court will be eliminated by this summer. The Los Angeles County Bar Association will be taking over the administration of this valuable program.
The Southwest District two years ago has added financial and mental health professionals to its volunteer mediation panel. This could complement the volunteer attorney mediators who serve in the central and many district courts. We in the legal community need to do more to resolve cases and reduce the demands on our family law bench officers.
- PROMOTE THE GREATER USE OF RESOLVING DISPUTES BEFORE GETTING TO THE COURTOOM: MEDIATION, COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE
Judge Scott Gordon, speaking at the Beverly Hills Bar Association’s “Meet the Judges Night,” cited consensual dispute resolution as an important response to the court’s budget problems. As described above in this article, there are many ways dissolutions can be resolved without burdening the court. The attorney who can settle cases early on, without having to prepare for depositions, trials or relying on child custody evaluations, will experience less stress and greater rewards as a family law practitioner.
- INCREASE THE COLLABORATION WITH PROFESSIONALS IN THE COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS
When the court suspended offering the Parents without Conflict Program by the Family Court Services staff, it freed up staff to be more available for the mandated program of custody mediation and evaluations. As important as the programs were, it was a judicious use of staff to provide the services required by statute.
The court has also eliminated the PACT classes at the courthouses, and instead directs parents to an online program.
The Family Court Services, known earlier as the Conciliation Court, has always been innovative. The Los Angeles Conciliation Court established one of the first marriage counseling programs in the nation, and was recognized by the Board of Supervisors for “saving” many marriages. As the community counselors became trained and more available, the court discontinued offering the marriage counseling services. We used to tag all of the 1284 forms for Confidential Counseling and write letters offering counseling as a “last chance” to save the marriage. That is no longer being done and mental health professionals are now providing an important service that was originated in the courts.
Divorce Parenting groups are listed on the court’s website, and parents are now able to attend groups in their neighborhoods. Similar programs can be set up to complement the PACT (Parents and Children Together). The innovative and award-winning PACT program, originally conceived by Judge David Rothman and Commissioner Jill Robbins for Santa Monica, has been implemented in courthouses throughout the county. Maybe the time has come for the programs to be offered in local communities. The court should still require the education program, but by encouraging mental health professionals to run the programs, even more Family Court Service staff would be available to shorten the wait times for mediation and evaluations.
- RESTORE THE INTERN TRAINING PROGRAM FOR MEDIATION
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, interns from the masters and doctoral programs from the top area universities applied for the year-long program at the court. The selection process was similar to the process for hiring staff. Only the most qualified candidates were selected. These interns provided effective mediation services, sometimes more successful than the more experienced staff. Interns augmented the staff in the central district and in almost all the districts. Their services were provided at no cost to the court. Thousands of cases were settled.
In addition, the morale of the staff was enhanced by the idealistic, energetic and caring interns. One intern once showed me a research article citing the sometimes greater effectiveness of the interns when compared with the more experienced, older staff.
It is notable that the manager, supervisor and some of the most effective staff of the Family Court Services started their careers with the court as court interns. The USC School of Social Work has expressed interest in placing their graduate students at the Superior Court for their internship experience.
Learn more about Collaborative Divorce
David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.
In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.
He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.
In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.