Family Defense and the Disappearing Problem-Solving Court

CUNY Law Review, Vol. 20, 2016

Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-548

32 Pages Posted: 13 May 2017 Last revised: 25 May 2017

Date Written: 2016


Problem-solving courts began to flourish in the early 1990s, most notably as drug treatment courts. Family Court Treatment Parts (FCTPs) were developed in the late 1990s in New York State, fully embracing the three key components of the problem-solving drug court model: (1) an activist judge who helps to fashion, and then closely monitor, dispositions; (2) a team of lawyers, social workers, and court personnel who try to identify and then work toward commons goals with the family; and (3) frequent and meaningful court appearances by relevant parties. This team model has challenged attorneys for the parents (and sometimes the child) in fulfilling several of their ethical responsibilities to their clients, including preserving confidentiality, maintaining client-centered advocacy, and protecting due process rights.

In the last decade, New York City has embraced multi-disciplinary, institutional family defense practice by contracting with institutional providers to represent the vast majority of parents in child welfare proceedings. The development of this holistic advocacy has challenged the problem-solving approach to resolving family concerns that characterizes the family court in general but especially in the FCTPs. The rise of vigorous family defense representation has generated an unanticipated consequence: the diminishment and even disappearance of FCTPs in New York City.

This essay traces the trajectory of both the FCTPs and the institutional family defense practices to analyze this outcome and to discuss the broader lessons that can be learned from the creation of an effective system of parent representation.

Keywords: Family Court, Problem-Solving Court, Attorney, Professional Responsibility

Suggested Citation

Spinak, Jane M., Family Defense and the Disappearing Problem-Solving Court (2016). CUNY Law Review, Vol. 20, 2016, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-548, 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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