Thursday, September 3, 2009

Indiana Trial Court Statistics

Indiana has no idea of the details of what goes on in its courts. We do not because we do not keep those kind of records.

I got thinking on this subject several weeks ago after I had an e-mail regarding statistical information about family law cases. The writer mentioned that they were awaiting information on child custody statistics. Let me list what I know we do not know about family law cases - at the trial level:

  1. How often fathers get custody.
  2. How often mothers get custody.
  3. How often there is a custody modification.
  4. How often the father gets custody on a modification.
  5. How often the mother gets custody on modification.
  6. How often there is a modification of parenting time/visitation.
  7. How often child support is modified.
  8. What is the average change (up or down) in child support.
What we do know:
  1. How many divorces are filed yearly..
  2. How many paternity cases are filed yearly.

We know these items because Indiana keeps statistics on the gross number of filings. If you want to check out what statistics are kept and what are the numbers, then go here.

I am sure that someone, somewhere thinks that lawyers and judges would want these numbers. Please remember that most lawyers and judges were not trained in statistics or social sciences. We are trained to think in terms of appellate decisions. Finally, (and I write this only semi-facetiously) lawyers are lawyers because our higher math skills were terrible. Bottom line: we do not think in terms of statistics.

Appellate decisions are much easier to track. These come from one source instead of 92 (the number of counties in Indiana). They are all public and actually online. Trial court judgments require looking at each courts' files.

For those who keep saying that Indiana's courts possess a bias against fathers in custody cases, I have to resort to Scots law: it is unproven. I have discussed this issue with several people and I have been annoyed at my inability to get this point across. Not enough information exists to give us any idea of a problem. (Yes, I know that just having the numbers about who gets custody is not enough to explain why there were certain outcomes.)

On similar point, Madison County has its Children in The Middle Seminar and other counties have similar programs. We have no idea of the effectiveness of these programs. Actually, we have no means of measuring their effectiveness. Having statistics on the subject of modifications or contempt's might give us some insight into how effective are any of these programs.

No, no business would be able to manage its business but never have we - lawyers and judges - thought of the court system as a business.

Before everyone gets up in arms, let me say that our court system lacks any means for implementing any changes to create better statistics. They may be inherently incapable of doing so (see preceding paragraph). Finally, we may never get the money out of the General Assembly for capturing statistical information about our court business.


Illinois childrens rights said...

It is amazing, considering the level of contention and litigation between divorced parents over their share of parenting time, that states do not make any effort to survey or assess this for children of divorce. In Illinois,between the Vital Records Act [410ILCS 535] and the Dept of Public Health, only the number of divorces in each county are recorded. The most recent Vital Statistics regarding children and divorce are from 2003, reporting the "number of children under 18 years of age whose parents divorced" and the percentage of those involving 1, 2, or 3 children. That's it.

It would seem incredible that the Bar Associations, as powerful as they are, do not expect more than this for statistical data covering one of the largest areas of litigation.

Sam Hasler said...

Good to know that Illinois differs not one bit from Indiana.

Notice that is not even the courts that are seeking the information but the Department of Public Health. Looking at who is seeking the information and the information sought has nothing to do with tracking case information we have been discussing.

I think you overestimate the power of Bar Associations and their purposes and underestimate how little the state legislatures fund the courts. We lawyers have to pay more attention to the practice of law - call it the procedural side. The judges are in the same rut. Making sure that the machinery runs. The Bar Associations are likewise more concerned with improving how the machinery works.

Combine that with the lacking on my profession's sympathy for statistics and you get the situation we are in. We really have no idea what is going on. And the general public thinks we do.

I have to say that I never even thought about this issue before I started writing this blog. Two things have happened because of this blog. First, I have come to realize that there is a forest as well as trees. I think that same condition exists for most lawyers and judges - we are mired in looking at our cases and do not get to see the wider issues.

Secondly,thanks to writing this blog I have had several conversations with what I will call men's rights representatives. The conversations have probably been unsatisfactory because of the lack of statistical information. I see that we do not have enough general information to generalize about the system while they seem to think they can go from their specific information to a general conclusion.

I am still too close to the trees, but I have the distinct impression that things do need to change. But the change will need to come from the general public and from them to the legislature. Collecting the information that we are talking about and then collating it will require money. That will mean an increase in taxes. I do not see a change any time soon because of the need for money.