As lawyers know, family law and divorces cases can be some of the most contentious and lengthy court proceedings. These cases also frequently involve at least one SRL. Not surprising, when the research shows 76% of all civil proceedings in the United States include one or more self-represented litigants.
Illinois’s very own 22nd Judicial Circuit sees this firsthand. They reported that nearly 30% of divorce cases within their circuit include SRLs as both the plaintiff and the defendant.
Without guidance from counsel, these individuals often struggle to achieve access and the means to an efficient and fair resolution. As a result, both the litigants and the courts are also burdened with a costly bill. That’s why the 22nd Circuit acted.
This March, the 22nd Judicial Circuit held their first Early Resolution Program (ERP).
The ERP is a pilot program to assist self-represented litigants seeking uncontested divorces. The goal is to simplify the court process in one trip. Court Staff do screenings of the two parties prior to attending court to see if they would negotiate well with one another. After the screening, approved parties are invited to handle their cases in a quick and efficient manner.
On March 22nd, the Illinois circuit held its first ERP Session. Fourteen cases were invited to attend the session and 11 participated. Two of the cases did not have both parties appear and the remaining nine cases were “proved up” resulting in a judgment of dissolution of marriage.
Of the cases included in this ERP session, the oldest case was 83 days old. The newest was filed with the Court just 18 days prior and the average age of all cases at the time of session was 53 days.
According to Danielle Hirsch, Assistant Director of the Civil Justice Division for the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, the ERP will hopefully shorten the length of time from date of filing to case disposition. The hope is that it will also reduce the costs tied to lost wages for litigants to attend court hearings, as well as simplify the processing steps and the number of post disposition hearings.
Still in its infancy, the 22nd Circuit will continue to collect data to ascertain if the program is working as planned. However, other states have seen success with the implementation of an ERP program, so one can only hope Illinois will have the same.