Elkins Is Coming; If You Are A Divorce Lawyer, You Had Better Watch Out.

For the second time since no-fault divorce was instituted in California in 1973, a committee appointed by the Judicial Council, the people who run the courts, is trying to fix family law.  Their recommendations were sent to the Judicial Council this spring. The first attempt, called Family Court 2000, was in 1996.

At that time, the courts were forced by public demand to address needed changes; 50% of the people filing for divorce in 1996 were doing so without lawyers.  Now the statistic is 65%, possibly up to 70%, and by the end of their cases, 80% of divorcing people are without lawyers, according to the Judicial Council statistics.

The 38-member group, named the Elkins Family Law Task Force, met last February in San Francisco to review all the public comment received since they released a draft of over 100 recommendations October 1, 2009.  Public comment amounted to over 1,200 pages. Public hearings were held October 22 and 27. Their final 95 pages of recommendations were sent to the Judicial Council for their April 2010 meeting.  An implementation task force was appointed.

The task force held seven other in-person meetings and a Litigant and Advocate Input Group meeting on April 6, 2009 in San Francisco where about 35 people spoke, all of them about “custody” disasters.  One woman said she had had 150 court hearings over the course of 11 years at a cost of $200,000.

Family law in California has been a festering sore in the body politic since 1973.  In 1996, the Judicial Council, the folks who run the court of this state, appointed a committee called Family Court 2000, which ran up and down the state listening to opinions of what was wrong.

“Nothing wrong here,” said a lawyer sent by the Orange County Bar Association; “Just some people who have mental problems.”

“Nothing wrong here,” said the supervising judge of family law in Los Angeles County; “We settle cases all the time in the hallways on the day of trial.”

Fifty percent of the people who wanted divorces were going to court without lawyers.  Family Court 2000 did result in some changes to facilitate the work of the people without lawyers.  All courts established self-help centers.

In 2006, Jeffrey Elkins sued the family law court of Contra Costa County for they way they treated him.  He won.  The Supreme Court of California said, “you can’t do that to Jeffrey,” adding in a footnote that the Judicial Council ought to look to all the family courts of the state.

“Any thoughts on reform? We sure need to do something as in this economy internal reform will be less painful for everyone than the crazed angry pro per litigant methodology,” said  a prominent Orange County lawyer.

The work of the Elkins Task Force can be found at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/jc/tflists/elkins.htm.

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