Five counties in eastern Iowa are trying out a less formal approach to family court in hopes of resolving cases faster and preserving court resources.
Judge Nancy Tabor of Scott County says currently her docket is full of people representing themselves. Most people aren’t familiar with the court system, which means these cases take a lot of time.
So Tabor is trying out a more straightforward approach.
"Each party speaks freely with the judge, tells the judge whatever they want the judge to hear, gives the judge whatever documents they want the judge to have, pictures anything they want to bring," she says. "The other party does not get to cross examine them or ask any questions."
Once the first person is done speaking with the judge, the process is repeated with the opposing party. Then the judge makes their ruling within days.
"Often times due to [self-representing litigants'] inexperience with the court system, they're not equipped to give us all the information that we need oftentimes in a trial," explains Judge Henry Latham, who is joining Tabor with the trial project. "This allows the judge to go much further than we're allowed otherwise, given our judicial ethics, to proceed in asking questions."
Tabor expresses hope this approach will free up resources and resolve family legal matters quicker than the traditional model.