What They're Thinking: Iowa Supreme Court considers Family Law Task Force recommendations

Goal is to make process smoother, fairer in dissolutions, child custody cases

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The Iowa Supreme Court is taking a look at recommendations made by the Family Law Task Force that will make the process more just, efficient and provide cost-effective resolutions for dissolutions of marriage and child custody cases, including financial matters related to cases.

This task force is just one of many areas of civil justice reform that the Iowa Judicial Branch has tackled since 2009, including creating the Iowa Business Specialty Court and changing rules for expedited civil court cases with $75,000 or less damages.

Matthew Brandes, a lawyer with Simmons, Perrine, Moyer and Bergman in Cedar Rapids and co-chairman of the 52-member task force, said the recommendations were completed in May following a year of work.

Q. What was the biggest issue for these cases — the time to resolution?

A. The time it takes to obtain the resolution of a contested family law matter is only one of the issues the task force is examining — not the biggest problem.

It is a symptom of other system issues that are critical to address. These include developing less adversarial methods of family-dispute resolution, more uniform, understandable and streamlined court procedures, and expanding the availability of legal advice and assistance to the public.

Q. Do you have current numbers for how many family law cases are filed in Iowa courts?

A. In 2015, 28,082 such cases were filed and 28,031 cases were processed. These statistics vary from year to year but have been relatively stable.

Q. How many recommendations were made to the court?

A. The nine recommendations for consideration in 2016 are:

- Amend the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure to provide an optional, informal and expedited track for processing family law cases

- Adopt standards for lawyers representing children in custody cases

- Establish a statewide mediation program for family law cases with opportunities for mediation and settlement conferences

- Establish a uniform, statewide requirement to conduct temporary custody hearings in person to promote transparency of courts

- Determine whether to create spousal support guidelines

- Continue providing education to judicial branch personnel on the use of unbundled legal services and interacting with self-represented litigants

- Centralize local rule information on the judicial branch website, every district has different rules on deadlines

- Reduce barriers to the use of unbundled legal services in family law cases — which would allow people to contract a lawyer for only portions of case

- Continue the work of the Task Force.

Q. Do you have any idea when the court will make decisions on those?

A. No. The initial indication from the court is that eight of the nine recommendations will be acted on by the court in some manner.

The exception is the possible development and adoption of spousal support guidelines. That work is being tabled until there is more information and experience from the states that have adopted them.

The full report of the task force can now be viewed on the Iowa Judicial Branch website, at http://smgs.us/3k91 under “Report of the Iowa Supreme Court Family Law Case Processing Reform Task Force (May 2016).”

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