By Heather Scheiwe Kulp
September 19, 2018

We receive them from our dentist and our mechanic. They help us manage our appointments and make arrangements to be there at the time and place indicated. So why not offer text-based reminders for parties who engage with the Circuit Court?

In June, the Circuit Court began to pilot a text-based reminder program for litigants. The Court selected divorce/parenting mediations as the first “hearing” type for which to test these reminders. Why mediations? First, the Court already tracks failure-to-appear rates for mediation, so could also track the impact of the reminders. Second, failure-to-appear can result in fees for parties, yet will not result in a dismissal of the case. So, there is a financial benefit for parties to appear, yet no case impact (other than a longer time-to-next-event) if they ignore both the Notice and the text reminders and do not appear. Third, thousands of mediations occur each year, so there is a large enough set to evaluate the program.

Parties who provide a cell phone number to the Court will receive three text-based reminders: a reminder seven days in advance of mediation, a reminder three days in advance (within the time parties can cancel without financial penalty), and another reminder one day in advance.

The message states: NH Court: Your mediation is MON, 12/12 @ 12:12 PM. Bring a completed Financial Affidavit. Call 1-855-212-1234 with questions. Text OPTOUT to discontinue texts.

As of this writing (August 21), the Court has sent more than 4,000 messages to parties in more than 700 divorce/parenting cases (some cases had more than one mediation session in that period). Feedback indicates that parties appreciate the reminder and, in at least a few instances, parties indicate they had forgotten about mediation and would not have appeared but for the reminder. Mediators report more parties come with financial affidavits partially or fully completed. Since the text-based reminders began, the Office of Mediation and Arbitration has seen a reduction in the instances of failure-to-appear.

The Circuit Court continues to work through the challenges inherent in a technology-based system. First, parties must share their phone numbers to receive texts, and they must update the Court should their phone number change. Second, court staff people are developing new practices around how they record phone numbers, so the most accurate number is used in the text program. Third, Circuit Court has received feedback that some parties consider three reminders too many. The Court may reduce the number of texts from three to two per scheduled session in future iterations.

An important note: the text-based reminders are not the formal notice of the hearing, nor do the texts contain new or advisory content for litigants. This text-based reminder system is intended as a service from the Court to litigants—self-represented or counsel-represented—and is therefore only available to parties.

The Circuit Court hopes your clients find this reminder system helpful. If your client does not wish to receive further text-based reminders, encourage them to text “OPTOUT” when they receive the first one. Any questions or reports of incorrect reminders can be directed to the Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.

 

Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Alternative Dispute Resolution coordinator for the Judicial Branch.