Pilot program helps Arizona family court litigants without lawyers
May 21, 2023, 5:45 AM
PHOENIX — A pilot program recently launched in the Valley that gives self-represented litigants an easier way to navigate their family court cases.
The Informal Family Law Trial (IFLT) pilot project makes the process less overwhelming by condensing the trial format and letting the judges guide individuals through the entire process, the Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County said in a press release.
The decision to launch the pilot program comes as 70% or more of all litigants in family court proceedings represent themselves.
“These individuals not only have to grapple with the challenges they are encountering in their lives, but they must also navigate what is a complicated litigation process,” Family Department presiding judge Bruce R. Cohen said in the release.
He added that it’s often difficult for litigants to represent themselves as they are held to the same legal standard as attorneys.
“The Informal Trial process reduces the complexity by having the assigned judge solicit from each party the evidence and information needed for the judge to properly rule on the case,” Cohen said.
“This will eliminate the additional stress that self-represented litigants experience as a result of not knowing how to present the evidence to support the claims in their case.
Both parties in the case are required to agree to the informal trial.
The initiator of the case will be questioned first, and the other party will follow. There are no cross-examinations in IFLT and only a small need for legal objections, the court said.
“Litigants will not have to understand rules of evidence in order to present their case,” Cohen said. “Exhibits that the judge is to consider are admitted into evidence with greater use.”
Most parties represent themselves, but if the judge believes other witnesses should be called to provide additional information, they may be called. The judge will decide the importance of what litigants say, the release said.
“Our court system has as a core value — the need for there to be true access to justice. We believe that this new informal trial process furthers that goal for those who are addressing family-related legal issues by simplifying the process for them,” Cohen said.