first_imgPromoting the utilization of qualified programs for supervised visitation and/or monitored exchange. The needs and best interests of children should be the primary consideration of any family court. The court’s role in family restructuring is to identify services and craft solutions appropriate for long-term stability and that minimize the need for subsequent court action. Coordinated Management The FCSC also recommended the court adopt a family court model based on “coordinated management.” “In a coordinated management system, all pending family cases are coordinated and managed by a staff member or team of staff members to facilitate the delivery of appropriate social services, maximize judicial resources, avoid conflicting court orders, and prevent multiple court appearances by the parties on the same issues,” the report said, adding that as a court grows to more than seven judges, it becomes inefficient to divide all cases equally among judges. Because judges rotate in and out of divisions, the report said, it is impossible to keep one judge with the same family. In the coordinated management model, this is unnecessary since a staff member or team of staff provides continuity for the family instead of the judge, the committee said. The panel recommended the court also require each circuit to establish an intake process to provide information, make referrals to legal or social services, and assist self-represented litigants. The panel also said services should be available whether or not the person files a lawsuit and without regard to income. Family division judges also must have sufficient case management staff to perform differentiated case management, to coordinate all cases involving a single family, to coordinate and monitor services provided to each family, and to collect aggregate data to measure performance of the family division. The court also needs an integrated management information system to monitor and coordinate cases in the family division. The system should be integrated with the clerk of court and be able to provide information on all pending and closed cases involving the members of a family, the panel said. The Supreme Court also should require the chief judge of each circuit to appoint an administrative family law judge for the circuit and give the administrative judge authority to oversee and coordinate the circuit’s family initiative. The panel said each circuit should employ at least one family court administrator or coordinator to assist the chief judge, trial court administrator, and administrative family law judge in the management responsibilities of the family division and in establishing links with appropriate community services and programs. The Supreme Court should also require chief judges to assign to the family division only those judges who are committed to children and families. “Judges assigned to the family division must have expertise in all matters involving children and families,” the panel said. “They must be motivated to learn multi-disciplinary skills in the areas of domestic violence, family dynamics, child development, psychology and mediation.” The court also must encourage chief judges to assign judges to the family division for at least a three-year term, give them the opportunity to rotate out at the end of their term, and stagger rotation to ensure that a significant portion of the family division judges are experienced in family law, the FCSC said. The committee said judges who are assigned to the family division for the first time, or who have not served in the family division for two years, should receive mandatory training in the fundamentals of family law, domestic violence, juvenile dependency, and juvenile delinquency before assuming the assignment or within 60 days after assuming the assignment. Family law judges also should be provided with continuing education in technical legal requirements of domestic relations and juvenile law, training in nonlegal subjects such as child development, family systems, mental health, behavioral sciences, social work, mediation, and information on public benefits and programs that are available for children and families. The committee said each circuit also should create a family law advisory group that is open to court staff, judges, members of the bar, social service providers, local community leaders and any other interested persons or organizations to support and advise the family court. The Supreme Court also should require each circuit to provide regular public information through the Internet and any other media that is easily accessible to the community about how to access the court, what services are available, what the public can expect from the legal system, and any limitations on the court’s authority and resources. Providing adequate and sufficient security personnel and equipment to ensure family divisions are safe. Justices receive model family court plan Using education programs for parents involved in family law proceedings. August 1, 2000 Associate Editor Regular News Assuring the availability of crisis intervention and long-term counseling/treatment programs and ensuring that compliance is monitored when such services are court ordered. center_img Providing the court with evaluative information in proceedings involving custody disputes. Cases involving inter-related family law issues should be consolidated or coordinated to maximize use of court resources to avoid conflicting decisions and to minimize inconvenience to the families. Therapeutic justice should be a key part of the family court process. The panel said the guiding principles do not rule out adversary litigation and the panel recognizes the adversary system is essential to resolve differences of opinion, to balance power in relationships and to enforce orders on recalcitrant parties. “The adversary system is essential to protect due process rights of children who are charged with delinquent acts,” the report said. “Furthermore, the goal of therapeutic jurisprudence does not rule out retribution for criminal acts such as domestic violence and delinquent behavior.” Types of Cases The report said a model family court or division should include the following types of cases: dissolution of marriage, division and distribution of property arising out of a dissolution of marriage, annulment, support unconnected with dissolution of marriage, paternity, child support, URESA/UIFSA, custodial care and access to children, adoption, name change, declaratory judgment actions related to premarital, marital, or post-marital agreements, civil domestic and repeat violence injunctions, juvenile dependency, termination of parental rights, juvenile delinquency, emancipation of a minor, CINS/FINS, truancy, and modification and enforcement of orders entered in those cases. The committee has proposed pilot projects to develop models of best practice in monitoring, tracking, and coordinating cases in the family division and other litigation involving the same family members. The committee limited the model to juvenile matters and traditional domestic relations cases for three primary reasons: “First, there is a great deal of overlapping issues that can be addressed more efficiently if all of these cases are in the same division,” the report said. “Most of the cases involve the welfare of children who are not parties to the proceedings. As a result, the legal system, the parties, and the attorneys have a responsibility to protect the best interests of the children involved. Finally, the objectives of therapeutic justice apply to all cases included in the model.” While the FCSC voted to include juvenile delinquency in the model family courts, the panel did not recommend including criminal cases involving family members in the family division. “There are good arguments for and against including misdemeanor and felony domestic violence in a family division,” the report said. “Likewise, there are good arguments for dedicated domestic violence courts with jurisdiction over both civil and criminal domestic violence cases. Consequently, at this time, there is more than one acceptable way for the court system to address domestic violence in a comprehensive manner.” The FCSC, however, said failure to include criminal cases involving family members will not preclude a circuit or county from establishing a domestic violence court with criminal jurisdiction as part of a family division or separate from, but coordinated with, the family division. Getting Judges Talking The committee said the Supreme Court should adopt a rule of judicial administration requiring judges who are assigned to different cases involving the same family to confer, and to coordinate pending litigation to maximize judicial efforts, avoid inconsistent court orders, and avoid multiple court appearances by the parties on the same issues. This rule also should clarify what happens when the judges disagree after conferring, the panel said. Essential Elements The panel said there are 12 fundamental elements essential to a model family court. They include case management; self-help programs, such as providing intake, screening, and procedural guidance to self-represented litigants; ensuring cases involving domestic violence are identified and managed in a manner that is organized, timely, and sensitive to the special dynamics involved in those cases; alternative dispute resolution; utilizing guardians ad litem in all family cases involving abused, abandoned or neglected children, and children at risk of harm; and using quasi-judicial officers to expedite hearings and expand judicial resources. Also identified as essential were: Justices receive model family court plan Mark D. Killian Associate Editor The Family Court Steering Committee has presented the Supreme Court with plans to create a model family court in Florida to provide families and children with an accessible and coordinated means of resolving legal matters. The welfare of children and families, nonadversarial dispute resolution and providing related social services are at the heart of the recommendations which were filed with the court June 29. The report said the traditional adversarial process is detrimental to children because “it drives parents further apart at a time their children need them to work together to restructure their system of parenting,” and the fragmented legal system is damaging to families. Fifth Circuit Judge Raymond McNeal, who chaired the Model Court Subcommittee which drafted the recommendations, said children do best when they have two good parents involved in their lives. “We’re not here to put lawyers out of business. We envision a broader, deeper role for lawyers,” said McNeal, addressing those gathered at a Family Law Symposium at the Bar’s recent Annual Meeting. “Litigation is not the only way.” The model family court recommendations were six years in the making. In 1994 the Supreme Court directed the Family Court Steering Committee to develop recommendations on the characteristics of a model family court, including organization, policy, procedures, staffing, resources, and links to community services to assist children and families involved in litigation. Justice Major Harding noted a steering committee survey found “even members of our own legal community see unnecessary litigation and call family law `a fee-generating machine.’ One person surveyed wrote the `judiciary does not like families and it shows.’” Harding said if lawyers give bad marks to the family law process, how must that appear to the public? “It is too easy for us to blame each other,” Harding said. “It’s always the fault of the other guy’s lawyer, the recalcitrant client, the stupid judge or the unwilling legislature. But is that really the case?. . . If what we do to each other falls out on the clients, it’s time to change.” Eleventh Circuit Judge Judy Kreeger, a steering committee member, recalled a line from a classic book about family law: There could be a family law situation where every layer of the court system is encountered. Children and their families could be in litigation in every division of the court system simultaneously: domestic violence, abuse and neglect, house in foreclosure, guardianship in probate, etc. “That’s the nightmare of the present system,” Judge Kreeger said, noting many times judges in one division don’t know what judges in another division are deciding about the same family. “We need to devise a system that eliminates or minimizes conflicts of decision-making,” Kreeger said, adding currently there are no mechanisms in place for who decides issues when there are multiple judges involved with one family. Guiding Principles The panel’s recommendations begin with a list of guiding principles to be used as a foundation for defining and implementing a model family court, including: Children should live in safe and permanent homes. Providing computer hardware, systems and training to access information essential to case management and coordination, to print forms and notices immediately, and to generate statistical reports, to provide public and inter-agency access to records, and to allow telephone conferences and appearance of witnesses by electronic means. last_img