CALIFORNIA: Can the San Diego one-day divorce program work across the country?

Last Month, the New York Times ran an interesting article about an interesting divorce trend in California – Sacramento and San Diego to be exact. Let’s discuss the contents of the article briefly. Actually, let’s take the article apart piece by piece, just for kicks:

California offer one-day divorce programs


People who either can’t afford or don’t want to hire a divorce lawyer


In California, roughly three-fourths of family law litigants lack divorce lawyers, said Maureen F. Hallahan, supervising judge in the family law division at San Diego Superior Court. Typically, people file initial divorce paperwork on their own, but they don’t know what to do next, so their file languishes for months. Budget cuts in the state courts reduced available personnel and made the problem worse. So now some courts in California offer one-day divorce programs for people who either can’t afford or don’t want to hire a lawyer. “The reality is, people are going to do it without lawyers, and we had to accommodate that,” said Judge Hallahan.


San Diego Superior Court


Right now

How does the program works:

Under the San Diego program, you answer a series of questions online to see whether you qualify to use the program; a family law expert, acting as the program’s coordinator, advises you ahead of time what forms and documentation you must bring to court.

Couples arrive at court in the morning having generally agreed on the division of property and debts and a plan for the care of any children. The coordinator makes sure the paperwork is in order and helps wrap up any remaining details. (The coordinator isn’t representing either side and doesn’t offer legal advice or strategy, said Judge Hallahan.) Then, you go before a judge in the afternoon and leave with a divorce judgment. Since the program made its debut in March, the court has handled four to five such divorces a week, said Judge Hallahan.

How is the program being received by participants? Is it working?

Comment cards provided by the court, with the participants’ names redacted, suggest users are pleased. One reported being “lost” in the court system for months until receiving help from the one-day program, which enabled the completion of “all the necessary things to get this final in one day.”

Should the program be widely adopted in other states?

Maria P. Cognetti, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, noted that many courts already offered self-help clinics to teach divorcing couples how to navigate the legal system. She strongly cautioned couples with any significant assets to avoid one-day programs, since both parties may benefit from legal advice. If either spouse has any assets, “you should be booted out of the one-day divorce scenario,” she said.

What do you think? Should we follow suit? Should all states and even countries consider this option? Before you say “no” consider that it was also in California that “no fault” irreconcilable difference divorce (which is available all over the world!) was born.