judges-family-court

Proposals For Helping Judges in Court

PROPOSALS FOR HELPING JUDGES

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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-Kuroda2David 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.

attorney-child

Child’s Attorney in a Divorce

MINOR’S COUNSEL, THE ATTORNEY FOR THE CHILD – STILL CONTROVERSIAL

In more and more cases, the courts are relying on Minor’s Counsel to assist in the resolution of cases. In some jurisdictions, the use of minor’s counsel is almost routine. A number of factors have led to the greater use of attorneys for children. Because of the limited resources of Family Court Services, fewer cases are being resolved in mediation and it’s also taking longer for child custody evaluations. Even the “fast-track” evaluations have been renamed, in part because it’s not a speedy way of getting recommendations before the court. Minor’s Counsel often provides information to courts in a more timely manner. Often the newer bench officers are utilizing attorneys for children much more than the more experienced judges. Concerns about the greater use of Minor’s Counsel have long been raised by attorneys who believe too much rides on a quick assessment with no written report; mental health professionals have expressed concerns about some attorneys who aren’t experienced in interviewing and assessing the needs of young children. Concerns have also been raised about the uneven quality of the representation. Minimum and uniform training requirements have been established but the program still has its share of detractors.

Because Family Court Services no longer provides comprehensive child custody evaluations, along with the high cost of private evaluations, judges are appointing more Minor’s Counsel in custody cases. The courts appreciate how quickly these attorneys can provide input for the judges.

One of the Elkins Task Force recommendations was for more training for attorneys servicing as minor’s counsel. The next training for lawyers want to serve as Minor’s Counsel will be held in October; completion of the training will be a requirement for Minor’s Counsel Appointments.

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David 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.

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Collaborative Divorce: How a Parenting Plan Will Help Co-Parent

 SPECIAL MASTERS, OR PARENTING PLAN COORDINATORS – KEEPING SMALL ISSUES OUT OF THE COURTROOM

Not since the first training session for Special Masters over six years ago, has there been a training program in s Los Angeles County for attorneys and mental health professionals interested in becoming Special Masters. The Superior Court, along with the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts, AFCC, sponsored a training program in March. Matthew Sullivan, Ph.D. provided the training, followed by a panel, including Judge Robert Schnider, Lynette Robe, J.D., Angus Strachan, Ph.D. and Jane Shatz, Ph.D. A list of the attendees who attended the training, and perhaps the earlier training, will be developed.

The court may not order the assignment of a Special Master in a case, although if the parties and the attorneys stipulate, the court will usually sign the stipulated order. A few difficult cases require an inordinate amount of judicial resources and are wearing on all the professionals involved, not to mention the adverse effects on the children. Using a Special Master to make decisions regarding more routine conflicts may provide benefits for the families as well as for the bench officers. Mary Lund, Ph.D. and Lyn Robe and convened A Special Master committee and developed a stipulation for the use of the Special Master. It is now available on the Family Law Home Page of the Los Angeles County Bar Website: lacba.org. The use of the Special Master or Parenting Plan Coordinator is not without controversy. Some are concerned about the delegation of authority to non-judicial officers and the absence of the usual protections in a court hearing. The option, however of using an attorney or mental health professional to resolve minor issues may provide relief to the courtrooms that are excessively burdened.

 

See an excellent summary of the case law regarding the Parenting Plan Coordinator by Mara Berke, Law Offices of Marshall S. Zolla, “Planned Parenthood,” Los Angeles Lawyer, March 2009.

 

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David 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.

Divorce10

Collaborative Divorce: Avoid Criticism of Co-Parent

A COACH HELPS A FATHER LEARN: COMPLIMENTING INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING

A father desperately wanted joint custody of his young children. The mother had reservations because he had never spent much time with the children. He persisted in pointing out his strengths and her faults. In frustration he criticized her parenting. She responded by threatening to seek sole custody. The coach suggested a break, and asked him what he really wanted. He said, “I want to be able to take care of my children; I need to spend time with them.” A different strategy was suggested. Rather than criticize their mother, he was advised to tell her she was a good mother and highlight the many things she did well. He did. “Mary, you have been a wonderful mother for our children. You have given them so much; you have taught them so much. You are a wonderful mother.” Her anger disappeared, and instead there were tears in her eyes. A therapeutic response would have been to recognize his anger and value as a father and addressed his basic feelings about being good enough. The coaching helps in different ways.

 MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND ATTORNEYS

 Most mental health professionals don’t like working with attorneys. They don’t like receiving letters from them; they don’t like talking to them. It’s because they don’t understand the role of the attorney. The attorneys in collaborative law are different. They have become tired of fighting; they don’t like having to do whatever it takes to “win.” They too feel like casualties of the divorce wars.

Collaborative family law provides a better way for attorneys and mental health professionals to work together. The best of both professions are available to the parents. Phone calls from attorneys are welcomed, and it’s rewarding being on the same team.

 

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

David-Kuroda2David 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.