MORRIS/SUSSEX VICINAGE FAMILY DIVISION
L.1983, c.405 established the Family Part of the Superior Court within the Chancery Division. This law abolished the County Juvenile Courts and Domestic Relations Courts and included their jurisdiction within the Family Part of the Superior Court. The Family Division has general jurisdiction in family civil actions such as domestic violence, matrimonial, adoptions, child support, custody, etc.; juvenile delinquency; and criminal and quasi-criminal actions, such as willful nonsupport or interference with custody.
The trial work of the division is currently divided among the Presiding Judge and four Judges. Assisting the Judges with the day-to-day administration of cases is a Family Division Manager who oversees a staff of 54 who are organized within the following functional teams:
- Family Division Manager's Office
- Non-Dissolution/Dissolution Team
- Domestic Violence Team
- Juvenile Team
- Children In Court Team
- Family Records
FAMILY DIVISION PROGRAMS
In addition to adjudication, many cases that come into the system participate in one or more diversionary programs or Complementary Dispute Resolution (CDR) programs. These programs are established under the authority of the Supreme Court and are subject to the rules and regulations found in the New Jersey Court Rules.
The programs in place in the Morris/Sussex Vicinage Family Division are:
- Child Support Hearing Officer Program
- Juvenile Conference Committees
- Juvenile Intake Services Conference
- Juvenile Referee Program
- Family Crisis Intervention Program
- Parent Education Workshop
- Family Mediation and Conciliation Program
- Matrimonial Early Settlement Program
- Domestic Violence Hearing Officer Program
- Court Appointed Special Advocates
Child Support Hearing Officers are mandated by N.J.S.A.2A:4-30.24 and function pursuant to R.5:25-3. Child Support Hearing Officers are employees of the State and are assigned to hear cases in counties throughout the State. The Child Support Hearing Officer hears and makes recommendations on all Title IV-D cases. Title IV-D cases include enforcing support obligations owed by absent parents to their children, locating absent parents, establishing paternity if the issue of the parent/child relationship is uncontested, and obtaining child support. They also include cases involving contested visitation and custody matters. For additional information, you may contact the Family Division at (973) 656-4340 and 656-4346 (for Morris County) or (973) 579-0612 (for Sussex County).
Juvenile Conference Committees (JCC) operate in accordance with N.J.S.A.2A:4A-75. Committees, made up of volunteers from the community, serve under the authority of the Court and hear and decide matters involving juvenile delinquency. Morris County has regional committees that meet (monthly/bi-monthly). Referrals to JCC are made by the Family Division upon receiving a complaint of juvenile delinquency. All referrals are reviewed by the Prosecutor's Office, the Family Intake Unit and a Family Division Judge. The Committees are primarily concerned with preventing more serious misconduct by the juvenile. The JCC recommends sanctions that must be met and monitors compliance in accordance with the rules. For additional information, you may telephone (973) 659-3525 (Morris County) or (973) 579-0616 (Sussex County).
Court Intake Service Conferences (ISC) operate in accordance with N.J.S.A.:4A-74. Like the Juvenile Conference Committee (JCC), cases are referred to ISC by the Family Division via a complaint. Whereas JCC's are most often used for first time juvenile offenders, ISC's are used for more serious offenses or for repeat offenders. Once the recommendation to divert a complaint to ISC has been approved by the Prosecutor's Office, the Family Division and the Family Division Judge, a Juvenile Intake Service Officer (ISO) schedules a conference. The ISO explains the program, indicating that he/she will attempt to assist the family in receiving any necessary services which will resolve the matter without the need for Court intervention. For additional information, you may contact the Family Division at (973) 656-4308 (Morris County) or (973) 579-0616 (Sussex County).
Juvenile Referees operate in accordance with N.J.S.A. Court Rule 5:25-2 and establish a forum for hearing informal juvenile matters where representation by an attorney is non-mandatory, based on the nature of the offense. It is the third level for hearing informal matters; preceded by the ISC and JCC's. The Referee must meet certain educational requirements as established by law, and operates as an arm of the Court, accepting pleas to offenses of the second, third and fourth degrees, as well as recommending dispositional alternatives available to a Family Court Judge, EXCEPT for incarceration. All dispositions are drawn up in a Court Order and submitted to the Family Court Judge for approval. All matters not resolved at the Hearing Officer Program are referred for a formal Court hearing before a Family Court Judge. For additional information please call (973) 656-4308 (Morris County) or (973) 579-0616 (Sussex County).
Juvenile-Family Crisis Intervention Units are mandated by N.J.S.A.2A:4A-76. The Crisis Intervention Program is a counseling service that aims to resolve parent/child conflicts in order to keep the family intact and to minimize unnecessary out-of-home placements. It is a twenty- four-hour-on-call service administered by Family Intervention Services, a private, non-profit organization, under contract with the State. The program is funded by the State and is monitored by the Trial Court Administrator and Family Division. The program is staffed by mediation counselors who must meet certain educational and background requirements as set by the Administrative Office of the Courts. For additional information, you may telephone (973) 285-0366 (Morris County) or (973) 300-1900 (Sussex County).
On November 15, 1999 the Parent's Education Act, N.J.S.A.2A:34-12.l - 2A:34-12.8 pl 1999, c111 was passed mandating a parent's education program for all parties who have filed an action for divorce, nullity or separate maintenance where the custody, visitation (parenting time), or support of the minor child(ren) is an issue. The fee for this program is $25.00, and is collected at the time of filing for the divorce. Additionally, the Court shall not refer a party to the program, however, if a temporary or final order restraining either party from contact with the other has been issued pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act or if either party is restrained from contact with the other party, or a child of the other party, under the criminal or civil laws of this or any other state. Moreover, the court may exempt a party from attending the program if the court finds good cause for exemption.
The program is made available to litigants twice a month, and is designed to assist and advise divorcing parents on the concerning divorce, separation, and custody. Other areas reviewed by the program facilitator include the following: The legal process and cost of divorce, financial responsibilities for children; family relationships and emotional adjustments during separation and divorce; children's reactions to divorce, communication issues and spotting problems; ideas and resources for parents to help their children through the divorce papers; and dealing with new family structures.
The program is administered by the Family Court Mediator, a highly qualified professional with expertise in family matters. Participating couples with unresolved issues shall be referred to the Family Court Mediation and Conciliation Program. For further information please call (973) 656-4319 (Morris County) or (973) 579-0612 (Sussex County).
Mediation of custody and visitation disputes is mandated by R.1:40-5. The program helps separating, divorcing and divorced parents make custody and visitation plans for their children without the stress and expense of a formal courtroom hearing. It gives parents the opportunity to establish their own standards of fairness, to express to each other their concerns about the present and the future, and to fashion their own agreements. The mediator who works with the parties is a court employee trained in mediation and conciliation techniques. For further information please call (973)656-4319 (Morris County) or (973) 579-0603 (Sussex County).
The Matrimonial Early Settlement Program (MESP) is a mandatory program which helps divorcing parties settle contested financial issues in their divorce. The program is administered pursuant to R.5:5-5 and is a cooperative effort between the Family Division and the Bar Association. Cases are scheduled before a panel of two volunteer attorneys who hear arguments, review evidence, and then make a recommendation. The recommendation is based on the panel's determination as to what is a fair settlement. Parties are free to accept, consider, modify or reject the panels recommendation. Volunteer attorneys must have at least five years experience in the practice of matrimonial law, and must be a member of the New Jersey Bar for at least four years. For additional information please call (973) 656-4309 or 4310 (Morris County) or (973) 579-0625 (Sussex County).
The Domestic Violence Hearing Officer Program is a Statewide program which enables litigants to request a Temporary Restraining Order and appear before a Hearing Officer, who will review the application for protection. The Domestic Violence Hearing Officer is a specially trained professional who works for the Court. The Hearing Officer will be guided by the same laws about domestic violence as the judge and will follow the same procedures and guidelines as a Judge. The Hearing Officer will make recommendations regarding emergent support, interim custody, who stays in the residence, and other temporary reliefs, pending a final hearing. A Superior Court Judge then reviews the recommendations made by the DVHO and, if approved, are incorporated in an Order signed by the Judge. For additional information please call (973) 656-4342.
Each year in Morris and Sussex Counties hundreds of children are part of a real-life courtroom drama. They have committed no crime. Rather they are victims. These children have had the misfortune of being abused, neglected or abandoned by their families. The important task of deciding where these children will spend their future rests with a Juvenile or Family Court Judge.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), is part of a growing, nationwide program of community volunteers who speak for abused and neglected children within the Court system. Their principal mission is to help ensure that children are in suitable, permanent homes.
CASA volunteers are appointed by Family Court Judges to speak up for abused and neglected children. Armed with the facts about a child's circumstances, they recommend to the Court what course of action would be best to serve a child's interest. The CASA volunteer interfaces with the Court, Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), parents and children, therapists, attorneys, teachers, and others. For additional information you may contact CASA at 973-656-4330.
The first step toward becoming a CASA volunteer is to call (973) 656-4330 for information on joining the growing number of Morris and Sussex County CASA volunteers.
You can also contact Morris/Sussex CASA on the web at http://www.casa-mc.org