4.15.2014

"One Day Divorce" Overlooks Possibility of Working at Marriage in Favor of Judicial Economy

This guest blog post is by Zach Hardister, current Regent University Family Law student:

A new marital dissolution procedure in California carries innovation, but misses the mark on marriage potential.  The following summary was taken from the San Diego Superior Court website regarding the “One Day Divorce” procedure being implemented in San Diego, California:

“The One Day Divorce Program assists parties with divorce cases before the San Diego Superior Court to finish their case and get a final judgment. Eligible parties will receive hands on assistance in finalizing all of the necessary forms to obtain the final Judgment of divorce or separation. Parties who successfully complete the process will go before a judge the same day and will leave court with a final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation.”

Essentially, parties to a One Day Divorce must work out all aspects of dissolution or legal separation prior to appearing before the court. The current requirements for the One Day Divorce Program are:
  1.  The parties must wait at least 6 months from the date of filing their Petition.
  2. The parties must be self-represented.
  3. The Summons and Petition must be served on the Respondent.
  4. Proof of Service of Summons OR a Response must be filed with the Court.
  5. The Parties must reach an agreement on all orders that will be included in the judgment, including: division of property and debts, spousal support, and if they have children, a parenting plan and child support. (This is not a requirement for the petitioner if the Respondent has not filed a response AND if the Respondent does not intend to participate in the program.)

According to California Court officials, nearly 72% of family law litigants are not represented by an attorney. Additionally, even simple divorce cases can take years to exit the system. These facts alone make California an ideal place to launch a pilot program of this nature.

After the filing and service requirements are met, both parties confer with a family law professional who examines their proposed divorce settlement agreement. Guided by the court professional, the parties fill out the forms needed to finalize the divorce right on the spot. If all of the necessary paperwork and disclosures are satisfactory, the litigants can appear in court the same day and leave with a final divorce decree in their possession.

It appears this new idea of the “One Day Divorce” is aimed at revising or extinguishing many of the requirements needed for summary dissolution in California. In the One Day Divorce Program, most (if not all) of the time, money, and resources needed to complete a simple divorce are eliminated. It’s been no secret that California is experiencing some of the worst budget problems in U.S. history. Fortunately, the One Day Divorce Program is completely funded by a grant from the San Diego Bar Foundation. Therefore, the SDBF has single-handedly relieved the San Diego court system from a majority of the financial burdens associated with these types of cases.

In a time when courts across the state are slashing public services because of budget cuts, the San Diego Superior Court is providing a new and innovative solution to simple divorces at no cost to the public. You can compare the differences between California Summary Dissolution and the One Day Divorce Program by looking up California Family Code §2400.

It is relatively easy to see the benefits provided to the court by the Program; however, the benefits which the parties receive are not as easily recognizable. Yes, the parties to a One Day Divorce are saving time and money in the present, but shouldn’t those involved in such a serious proceeding be more concerned about the long term effects? If the allure of avoiding attorneys and saving money isn’t enough to sway couples to the Program, avoiding all the time and trouble of the family court “grinder” surely will be.

Make no mistake; this program is truly innovative and beneficial. However, the glaring negative is that couples are not obligated to make an attempt at working things out before they rush into a dissolution of their marriage. A mere six months is all couples need before they can obtain their decree. Despite all the benefits, the One Day Divorce Program has the potential to make it too easy for a couple to obtain a dissolution. Of course, a great deal of couples are unable to peaceably form an agreement like the one needed for a One Day Divorce. Indeed, for this reason, good divorce attorneys will always have work in San Diego. In any case, this program gives couples a relatively “quick and easy” way out of what should be a lifelong commitment.

In sum, the Program is missing something more meaningful. The results of the One Day Divorce will be exciting to analyze as the program develops, especially if it becomes more widely accepted. Hopefully, there will be revised versions of the program if it catches on (“One Day Divorce [1.0]”?). Perhaps, a version that incorporates a more reconciliatory approach might work even better.  It is reasonable to believe that if either counseling or mediation were added to the requirements, more marriages might be rapidly preserved instead of terminated. California has a strong public policy for preserving marriage; however, it seems clear that the One Day Divorce Program overlooks this well established objective —at least for now.


4.07.2014

Restoring Juveniles in African Systems of Justice

Abigail K. Skeans, Candidate for Juris Doctor 2014  from Regent University School of Law also served as the Justice Programme Administrator, Children Justice Initiative in Uganda, Africa.  She has been researching and studying various juvenile justice systems in Africa during her law school career through the Center for Global Justice and the curricular Child Advocacy Practicum.  Her work is making a difference to children in Africa.

Last semester she worked in a comparative approach to juvenile justice taken in various African nations to determine the best and most restorative approach for children. 

Outlining the law in this area, Abby highlights both international, Ugandan, and Malawian standards of child justice in her research, and works to apply those rules and laws for the best interests of children when those children accused of crimes are often lost in the justice system machinery.  I have written on this before particularly regarding applications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which can be accessed at SSRN, and how important the notion of the best interests of the child ought to be applied to such circumstances.  (An overview of that jurisprudence can be accessed here).

Abby combines all the best regulations for children and a clear application of the rule of law in her global research to present an approach to juvenile law that seeks to build up and restore children even in the context of criminal accusations.  Her conclusions: "Child Justice in Malawi and Uganda will be successful when the various levels of systems can work together in a complimentary way to  address offenses while accounting for the restoration of the offender and the community based on inherent , traditional principles of African justice."  Her work is shared in her power point presentation

Children around the world deserve hope to be restored to their community and to their families particularly in the face of being charged with a criminal offense.  A restorative approach can accomplish those goals, and Regent Law is training future lawyers to do just that.  Great work, Abby!  

3.28.2014

Life, Death, and Family Restoration

The second edition of Abortion, Execution, and the Consequences of Taking Life, by James D. Slack, is a book about the cultures of life and death at war in America.  Dr. Slack is a Professor at the Robertson School of Government and the Director of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program at Regent University.  His book is available here.

Providing an in-depth examination of policy toward life and death in the United States, Dr. Slack examines human life from the perspective of Imago Dei—the idea of being made in God’s image—Slack argues that the taking of human life is the termination of the image of God. Intended to remind citizens and governments of their obligations to determine moral truth, this volume uses theocentric phenomenology to focus on the intimate consequences of abortion and capital punishment. Abortion alternatives as well as execution alternatives are explored as ways to encourage a policy that affirms life.
 
This volume intends to reconcile the truth found in the world with the truth found in Scripture, by studying the  intimate consequences of murder, abortion, and capital punishment. Using methodology of direct observation and qualitative open-ended conversations, Dr. Slack interviewed eighty-one people about abortion and its alternatives, the death penalty and its alternatives, and justice in society. This second edition is completely revised, placing greater emphasis on the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and includes a new chapter on post-abortion restoration.

I have joined colleagues in arguing that a culture of death harms women, even robbing them of happiness (that article can be accessed at SSRN), but this abortion conundrum was developed slowly over time.  Another article (which can also be accessed at SSRN) outlines the legal aspects of abortion, showing that state abortion regulations are the vehicle now to provide for the protection of women. 

Family restoration requires an objective perspective on abortion that protects family members.  Abortion, Execution, and the Consequences of Taking Life, by James D. Slack, seeks to ground public policy and administration firmly in morality, the rule of law, and the restoration of the family.

3.24.2014

Marriage Savers Working Toward Family Restoration

Marriage Savers, a non-profit marriage education training organization in Potomac, Maryland, is making a tremendous difference toward strengthening marriage on a community-wide basis---and that work is restoring the foundations of American families (visit their website at  www.MarriageSavers.org).  The Christian Broadcasting Network aired a story on "The 700 Club" about the 'Kentucky Ten-City Marriage Tour,' Marriage Savers' newest Community Marriage Policy.  

Joining with Kentucky's Family Foundation in Kentucky, Marriage Savers took on the goal of decreasing the state's high divorce rate and strengthening marriage across the state. Kent Ostrander, Foundation director, organized pastors in ten cities to meet with Marriage Savers every morning and afternoon for a week.  The event was covered by The Kentucky Citizen,  and the objective was to persuade clergy to create 'Community Marriage Covenants' in which the city's pastors sign an agreement to help.  Their strategy included the following points:
  1. Prepare couples for a healthy lifelong marriage by requiring couples to take a premarital inventory and meet with trained Mentor Couples to discuss their relationship issues and learn communication skills.
  2. Enrich all marriages with an annual event.
  3. Restore marriages in crisis by training couples whose own marriages once nearly failed to mentor those in current crisis.
  4. Reconcile separated couples with a workbook course taken by the committed spouse with a friend of the same gender to help him/her grow so much they attract back the errant mate. It works in most cases.
  5. Stepfamilies normally divorce at a 70% rate, but if a 'Stepfamily Support Group' is organized, 80% of these marriages are saved – the mirror opposite.

This was very important for Kentucky in light of its current state data:
  • Kentucky has America's third highest divorce rate.
  • Kentucky's marriage rate plunged 44% in only 19 years. Why? The number of cohabiting couples has soared 18-fold to 7.8 million couples – nearly quadruple the 2.2 million marriages a year.
  • Most unwed births are to cohabiting couples. They have jumped 8-fold from 225,000 to 1.7 million, or 41% of all births in the U.S. (which is 20 times worse than Japan's national unwed birth rate of 2%).

         Marriage Savers works to reverse these trends, with the marital interventions summarized above.  Cohabitation rates in cities with Community Marriage Policies fall by one-third compared to similar cities in each state. That reduces unwed births. In some cities, marriage rates rise, such as a doubling of marriages in Modesto, CA. The Director of Kentucky's Family Foundation summarized:

The vision of The Family Foundation's Kentucky Marriage Movement is to elevate the Biblical model of marriage and to encourage healthy marriages for our families, churches and communities across the Commonwealth. To that end we were encouraged by the results of the Marriage Savers approach to raise marriage rates and lower divorce rates and cohabitation rates in communities across the US. The Lord's vision for our Ten-City Marriage Tour was the communities of churches in the unity of the Spirit for the sake of Marriage and Christ's Bride. It is certainly a God-sized vision to offer this to all the churches and communities across Kentucky. Our desire is to be faithful and trust the Lord to continue His vision as He desires.

Feel free to download a copy of the article about the event in "Kentucky New Era." To help launch a local 'Community Marriage Policy'  in your community, contact Marriage Savers at (301) 469-5873. You can read the full 700 Club story here.  Efforts like these toward marriage strengthening also encourage national visibility for work to reduce divorce, cohabitation and unwed birth rates and to increase marriages---all critical elements toward family restoration.