Judicial Branch, State of New Hampshire
| For Immediate Release:
April 16, 2019
Judicial Branch pilot program offering text message reminders is a success
CONCORD, N.H. - The Judicial Branch announced today that its pilot program offering text message reminders to parties involved in divorce/parenting mediation reduced the failure-to- appear rate by 40% between July 2018 and January 2019.
The Circuit Court launched the program in the summer of 2018 for individuals scheduled for court-connected mediation in a divorce or parenting case. Individuals who chose to provide the Circuit Court a cell phone number received three simple text messages reminding them of their mediation day and time: one each at seven days, three days, and one day before the event. The message also reminded them to bring a financial affidavit (a critical document before any negotiations) to the mediation and provided them the Information Center phone number to call with questions. While reminder messages were available to parties, they were not available to attorneys, since the reminders were not official notices for court events.
The Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court, Hon. David D. King, put the need for the program and the measured benefits in perspective saying, “Failing to appear for a court hearing impacts many aspects of our court system. Parties are more likely to have their cases delayed and may be required to pay their attorneys for wasted time. The absent party may also face contempt or other consequences. Court staff spends time rescheduling mediations, while the judicial officer involved could have heard another case on an already busy docket. It is clear that decreasing rates of failure-to-appear benefits all who seek access to justice.”
Heather Scheiwe Kulp, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Coordinator for the Judicial Branch, explained that after researching various states’ and jurisdictions’ approaches to reducing failure-to-appear rates, the Circuit Court chose one event - divorce/parenting mediation - to pilot the reminder.
“This type of event proved useful as a pilot for a few reasons,” she said. “First, the court tracks failure-to-appear rates annually for these events, so we were able to compare one year to the next. Second, the consequence for failing to appear is a fee, which has significant negative impact on parties. And third, failure-to-appear for mediation impacts multiple court-based stakeholders, including court staff, mediators, the other party, and any counsel. So, a change to the failure-to-appear rate would benefit more than one or two stakeholders in the system.”
Kulp added, “When evaluating the program, we looked at indigent parties first, then analyzed a broader dataset. It indicates similar success. Based on hearing reports in original (not reopened) divorce and parenting cases, 4.77% of all parties scheduled for mediation in 2018 failed to appear. In 2017, that percentage was 7.16%. This indicates a reduction in failure-to-appear for original divorce/parenting mediation of 33%.” Kulp recently reported these findings at the American Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section conference in Minneapolis. Many state and federal court personnel were interested in replicating the text message reminder program in their own states.
With solid evidence that text reminders decrease instances of failure-to-appear, the Judicial Branch hopes to expand the availability of text message reminders to other case types within the Circuit Court, as well as to Superior Court cases. Criminal cases are under consideration for future text reminders. Circuit Court Senior Administrator Gina Belmont added, “As we all know, reducing the failure to appear rate for criminal defendants could have enormous positive impacts.”