The State of Alaska is reforming the way a divorce case proceeds through the court system. The new program named the Early Resolution Project is aimed at resolving divorce cases quickly and efficiently. One distinguishing characteristic of Early Resolution is the emphasis on settlement. Under the program, the Anchorage Superior Court addresses several divorce cases in one afternoon on a biweekly basis. On this afternoon, the parties are give free legal advice and encouraged to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides envisioned the program as a result of her experience in the Alaskan family court system. She was concerned because many divorce cases are assigned a court date that is several months after the initial filing. This waiting period caused the parties to become firm in their positions and unwilling to compromise. Judge Joannides proposed to attempt to resolve these divorce cases early in the process and has seen promising results. In the first year, eighty percent of cases settled as a result of Early Resolution.
Besides a quick resolution to the case, the Early Resolution program and others like it offer a number of fringe benefits to the parties. Like any case that settles early in the litigation process, a divorce settlement can save the parties a great amount of money. Litigating a family law case in San Diego involves filing fees, court costs and attorney’s fees. If a case settles early, the parties will not be responsible for any further costs and fees. Another benefit to dispute resolution is the preservation of the relationship between the parties. Litigation has the tendency to ruin the relationship between the parties indefinitely. However, in family law cases involving children, it is crucial for the parents to maintain a co-parenting relationship. Although the California Family Code is often clear, family court judges have an element of unpredictability. The facts of a case may be disputed and therefore the outcome can be uncertain. If parties reach a settlement they are in control of the outcome of the case. In family law cases, the outcome often has life-changing consequences for both parties. In order to have input in the final decision, the parties much reach an agreement.
The San Diego family court system has a program similar to Alaska’s Early Resolution Project. In San Diego, the family court judge will assign the parties a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) date before any case will proceed to trial. Unlike in Alaska, the MSC will occur toward the end of the parties’ case. The MSC will take place at the San Diego Superior Court where the parties have been litigating their case. A settlement conference judge will be assigned to the case. These judges are experienced local family law attorneys who have volunteered their time to help parties resolve their cases before trial. Because they have so much experience with San Diego family law, the settlement judges are able to help the parties predict what the judge will likely do at trial and reach a settlement agreement based on the probable outcome. The benefit to reaching an agreement during the MSC is avoiding trial. The parties are able to avoid the cost, time and emotional toll of a trial.
Alaska’s Early Resolution Project also relies on local attorneys to volunteer their time to help needy clients. These attorneys are able to get family law experience without becoming entrenched in long drawn-out cases. Before the biweekly court appearance, the volunteers are able to scan the divorce case file and begin to formulate possible solutions for the parties. A MSC is slightly more formal in this respect. The parties to an MSC are required to submit a Settlement Conference Brief to the settlement judge at least five court days prior to the MSC outlining the disputed issues and their proposed solutions.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding custody. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.