Adding Value to Families: The Potential of Model Family Courts

45 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2002


This article examines the national Model Family Court reform movement, analyzing whether the movement imitates previous attempts to improve the court through administrative and procedural reorganization, or whether the substantive foundation of the movement (whose first principles combine family unification with child safety) coupled with key structural modifications can transform the existing Family Court. The model court movement requires the judge to take a significant leadership role in restructuring court procedures and crafting and monitoring individual case resolutions. The author asks whether this new process would add value to the lives of the families involved. By examining New York court reform as well as preliminary information about the progress of model courts nationwide, a number of conclusions about the current reform effort are drawn. First, the organization of the model courts builds on a process of cooperation and collaboration that enhances the participation of both professionals and litigants. Second, the monitoring component can produce sufficient information for the court to limit its intervention into the family without increasing the risk to child safety. As a result, the overall number of cases that need court attention could be reduced and the court would be able to use its resources more effectively. The potential for transformation, however, has so far been limited by a dominant focus on administrative and procedural reform and a paucity of attention centered on preserving family integrity by utilizing the model court's unique design. Unless the model courts take the next step to fully integrate their substantive mandate into the new procedural framework, a family court paradigm that can add value to the lives of the families it serves will not be created.

Suggested Citation

Spinak, Jane M., Adding Value to Families: The Potential of Model Family Courts. Available at SSRN: or

Jane M. Spinak (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

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

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