What do you think about when you hear the words “court,” “judge,” or “jury?” Peace and quiet probably don’t come to mind. Chaos and disagreement probably do. That’s the basis for every civil court case: one party feels wronged by another. Whereas that is true of divorce litigation as well, disagreements are why many of those cases end up before a judge. Can we do something to reduce the number of divorce cases? Divorce law expert Alton L. Abramowitz thinks the answer is yes — as long as we consolidate our court system.
That means merging courts that are designed to work around a single type of case, such as divorce. Doing so could mean more chaos than before, or it could mean more efficiency. There are proponents and opponents of the idea.
New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is for consolidation. A late 2019 press release described her proposed changes to the state constitution that “would eliminate New York’s complex maze of 11 separate trial courts and replace it with a simple three-level structure to make the courts easier to navigate, increase operational efficiency and reduce costs to litigants…”
News outlets were quick to deride the potential changes to the court system, suggesting that children would be hurt the most, especially in divorce court cases.
The New York Office of Court Administration (OCA) described six divisions of a newly revised Supreme Court: family, criminal, state, commercial, general, and criminal. Divorce claims would fall under the “family” division, of course.
Dan Clark of NYLJ said, “Under the current way the judiciary is set up, a survivor of domestic violence may have to attend criminal court proceedings for the charges against their alleged abuser and have a separate case in civil [Supreme Court] to finalize their divorce.”
But a lot of attorneys who practice family law have found reasons to remain optimistic about the proposed changes to the NY Constitution. The Office of Policy and Planning of OCA says: “New York State’s Domestic Violence Courts (DV) make decisions regarding criminal offenses involving intimate partners. Essential features of DV Courts include: a dedicated judge; specially-trained staff; resource coordination; on-site victim advocacy; and collaboration with technical assistance teams.”
The point of a consolidated family court is that it exists primarily to protect the children who opponents of the system say would be harmed the most. While we can always argue over how changes might affect one group of people or another, it might be better to spend the required resources to change something for the better and simply wait and see.