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Family Law Interpreters Pilot Program Evaluation

Funding Agency: California Administrative Office of the Courts

Dates: 1999-2000

Staff: Wendy Constantine (Principal Evaluator, Research and Evaluation Systems), Norm Constantine, Marycruz Diaz, Lacy Clayton

This was a School and Community Research Group subcontract from Research and Evaluation Systems to assist with the evaluation of the California Administrative Office of the Courts' statewide pilot study on the effects of providing trained interpreters to family courts in nine California counties.

This project is was establish, manage, and evaluate the Family Law Interpreters Pilot Program (FLIPP), and draft sections of a report to the Judicial Council by January of 2001. AB 1884 directed the California Judicial Council to establish this one-year state-funded pilot program in which qualified interpreters are to be appointed, at court expense, in specified family law custody and domestic violence proceedings if both of the following conditions are present: 1) One or both of the parties is unable to fully participate due to a lack of English-language proficiency, and 2) If the court determines that the parties are financially unable to pay the costs of an interpreter.

Seven pilot sites were chosen across the state of California, including one Los Angeles district, to participate in the pilot program. The pilot sites were chosen to represent the diversity of the state, so that their programs could be replicable in other locations.

The purpose of this pilot project was to test a method designed to improve access to the courts for disputants who are not proficient in English - providing at no expense translators for those who cannot afford them. These efforts are consistent with the Judicial Council's long-range goals of improving access to the courts and the fairness of court proceedings, and in better serving families. At present, disputants who attempt to use the court to resolve custody and many types of domestic violence disputes are only provided a translator by the court if they are able to pay for such services. Otherwise clients must rely on friends and relatives for that purpose. Often one party to the dispute is conversant in English or is represented by an attorney, while the other (often the women) is not, putting the person not speaking English and not represented at a double disadvantage in the proceedings. This issue is critical when there is an issue of domestic violence before the court. If a women cannot communicate directly to the court or mediator, the extent of her past victimization and the extent of future risk to her and to children may be missed.

FLIPP Objectives:

The work will be performed working directly with the Family Court Services staff of the Administrative Offices of the Courts, coordinating with program administrators at each site. The objectives of the pilot program (as listed in the establishing legislation), include:

  • Increased utilization of the court by parties not fluent in English,
  • Increased efficiency in proceedings,
  • Increased compliance with orders,
  • Enhanced coordination between courts and culturally relevant services in the community,
  • Increased client satisfaction, and
  • Increased public satisfaction.