Romancing the Court

Family Court Review, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 258-274, April 2008

Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 08-176

17 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2008 Last revised: 9 May 2008


Problem-solving courts, created at the end of the 20th century, make court-based solutions central to addressing significant societal problems, such as substance abuse and its impact on criminal activity and family functioning. Yet, lessons gleaned from over 100 years of family court history suggest that court-based solutions to intractable social problems have rarely been effective. This article asks three questions of the problem-solving court movement: What problem are we trying to solve? Is the court the best place to solve the problem? What are the consequences of giving authority to a court for solving the problem? Answering those questions through the lens of specific examples from family court - the original problem-solving court - leads to the conclusion that neither the structural issues that courts face, such as overwhelming numbers of cases, nor the momentous societal issues that problem-solving courts have recently begun to shoulder, can be adequately addressed through court-based solutions. The factors that allegedly distinguish new problem-solving courts from earlier exemplars, especially the family court, are both less unique and less successful than they have been portrayed by problem-solving court enthusiasts. These factors alone fail to justify the expansion of problem-solving courts without further evidence of their effectiveness. Moreover, the potential dangers inherent in problem-solving courts are not theoretical. By examining illustrative examples from the history of the family court, the dangers become clearly apparent.

Keywords: family court, status offenses, problem-solving courts, court reform, drug courts, judges

Suggested Citation

Spinak, Jane M., Romancing the Court. Family Court Review, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 258-274, April 2008 , Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 08-176, Available at SSRN:

Jane M. Spinak (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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