Family Courts are Overwhelmed

In early June, I heard a report from the Harris County District Clerk, Loren Jackson, that 77,000 new family law cases were filed in Harris County in 2009, to be handled by 9 Family District Courts and a 10th court dedicated to family violence cases. This compared with only 46,000 cases filed in the 39 civil district courts. To say that the family district courts are overwhelmed with the volume is to understate the problem. The result of this huge volume of cases and the limited number of courts available to hear them is that couples who need to have their cases heard often wait months and sometimes years to reach a resolution to their family matter.

What many couples may not be aware of is that they do not have to rely on the litigation route to get their divorce or other family matter resolved. If they are willing to put their anger and fear aside, there are other routes to resolution available to them. One of them is early intervention mediation. Mediators are neutrals, trained to assist people in reaching agreements. If resolution is reached with a mediator, a family attorney can be hired to do all of the paperwork necessary to finalize their case legally.

In the event that the parties are unable to settle in mediation, they can then hired trained collaborative lawyers to assist them in reaching a resolution. Collaborative law is conducted out-of-court, in the privacy of the lawyer’s offices. Collaborative lawyers have special training in teaching couples to reach agreements on their own, without having to resort to the courts. If needed, communication facilitators and financial professionals can be part of a collaborative team to guide the couple through the process. National statistics on collaborative law show that between 90-95% of all collaborative law cases end in settlement.

Given the backlogs at the courthouse, litigation should be seen as a last resort in most cases. When looking for a lawyer, you should ask if the lawyer you are seeing has been trained in collaborative law. They can then tell you if that approach is appropriate in your case. There will always be cases that need the assistance of a judge or jury to get resolved. Those should be the ones at the courthouse. Not the ones that could be resolved by the parties with the help and guidance of trained mediators or collaborative lawyers.