In August 2018, the Supreme Court of Arizona released an Administrative Order authorizing the Superior Courts in both the Pinal and Yuma Counties to utilize an online dispute resolution (ODR) pilot project for family court cases. Both programs are approved to run for 12 months from the date of their implementation. Last year, the Yuma County program launched their program on December 3, 2018, and the Pinal County program recently launched their program on March 25, 2019. Both programs are free to parties and, in most cases, eliminate the need for parties to go to the courthouse. The decision of which cases are eligible to participate in the program are made by each county’s Conciliation Service Departments (“CSD”). According to the press releases for both programs, when selecting cases to participate in the program, the CSD will consider “the issue to be decided and other factors.”
To learn more about each of these ODR pilot programs, this month I spoke with Nicole LaConte, Court Program Specialist at the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts. The vendor for both programs is Court Innovations. After the CSD has identified eligible cases for the program, the CSD then uploads the parties’ information into the platform and the platform sends a notice to the parties inviting them to participate. Once a party agrees to participate, a facilitator is assigned to their case. The facilitators for the ODR program are current members of the CSD staff who are trained court mediators. Aside from learning how to utilize the platform, these facilitators are not required to undergo any specific technology training. The platform is designed so that the communication between the parties and the facilitators is asynchronistic, meaning that parties have 24-hour access the ODR platform. As a result, they can upload materials, communicate, and respond to their court facilitator at their convenience. In Pinal, the platform is designed so that the facilitator can speak to only one party at a time and the court is currently working on adding the ability for the facilitator to speak to the parties at the same time. Additionally, in Yuma, the platform was structured so that the Attorney General can also participate if the parties are deciding something that affects child support.
The program was designed for parties to access the service from their own personal computer or mobile device without having to go to the courthouse. Although similar, one notable difference between the two programs is that the Yuma program will be handling only post-decree cases and the Pinal program will be handling both pre-decree and post-decree cases. The goals for both programs is to broaden litigants’ access to the court and reduce the number of court hearings. To evaluate the programs, litigant satisfaction surveys will be sent out and the court will measure the time to disposition as well as the reduction in court hearings. Since both programs are currently in the pilot stage, there is no information about the programs in either county’s court rules. However, additional information about the programs is available at both the Yuma County ODR program website and the Pinal County ODR program website.