The Family Court has jurisdiction over all matters which arise out of a family type situation. While this court operates a complex and varied system, its operations involve the following case types:
- Juvenile Delinquency
- Non Dissolution
- Domestic Violence
- Family Crisis Intervention
- Child Abuse / Neglect and Termination of Parental Rights
- Child Placement
- Adoptions (Surrogates Office Processes Filings)
- Family Other (Mostly Contempt of
Domestic Violence Restraining Orders)
Most juvenile delinquency complaints are investigated by local police departments and then eventually sent to the family court where decisions as to how complaints will be handled are made.
Minor first time offenders such as shoplifting, petty theft, and simple assault are diverted from a formal court hearing and heard in a conference type setting by either panels of volunteers, such as Juvenile Conference Committees, or Paid Family Court Professionals. The goal of both programs is to help keep juveniles out of the court system and deter further delinquency behavior.
Complaints too serious for diversion programs or repeat minor offenders are heard by family court judges.
Non Dissolution complaints involve complaints between parties who may or may not be married but are not involved in divorce proceedings. This case type includes issues of paternity, child support, custody, and visitation.
Like Juvenile Delinquency, many Non Dissolution complaints are diverted and heard by either hearing officers or family court professionals. The purpose of these programs is to ease court back loads and help litigants reach mutual decisions. Complaints deemed inappropriate for diversion programs are heard by judges.
Dissolution complaints involve divorce complaints and issues arising out of divorce proceedings. Child support, alimony, custody, visitation, distribution of property, and other money issues are addressed in this case type. Most new divorce complaints are sent to Early Settlement Panels and/or Parent Education Workshop. These programs attempt to educate parties in an attempt to resolve monetary, child support, and custody issues. Unresolved matters are scheduled for trial before a judge for final decision.
Domestic violence complaints are signed directly at the family court or at a local police department when the court is closed. Criteria for filing a complaint are varied and specifically enumerated by statute.
A domestic violence hearing officer has recently been added to the Family Division staff. Under the direction of the presiding judge, the Family Division manager and other supervisory personnel, the domestic violence hearing officer conducts Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) hearings. The hearing officer forwards recommendations to a Family Division judge for review and signature.
If a judge determines there is evidence of domestic violence, a temporary restraining order is issued ordering the defendants to avoid any contact with the victim. Police serve the TRO to the defendant and the matter is scheduled for a final hearing within 10 days.
Family Crisis Intervention (FCIU)
FCIU directly handles matters in which juveniles demonstrate behaviors of truancy, runaway, incorrigibility, and other acting out behaviors. Referrals made to FCIU come from police, schools, parents, and other social service agencies.
FCIU is staffed with trained family counselors. Their role is to provide immediate, short term crisis intervention counseling and then refer the family to an appropriate social service agency. Participation with FCIU is voluntary, however, if the family fails to cooperate with FCIU recommendations and serious circumstances continue, FCIU will petition the matter to court.
Child Placement Review (CPR) monitors children placed out of the home by DYFS. The unit is staffed by judicial employees and volunteers. CPR volunteers hold meetings to review all the activity and information regarding the placement of children and report findings and recommendations directly to the court. After reviewing the reports, the judge makes a decision regarding placement, always keeping the best interest of the children in mind.
Abuse / Neglect and Guardianship
The Children in the Courts Team is responsible for calendaring the Abuse / Neglect and Guardianship litigated matters and completing the resulting after court work.
DYFS submits an abuse/neglect complaint for filing when they determine a child requires the protection, i.e. custody care and supervision of their agency. Guardianship complaints are filed when the division intends to pursue termination of the natural parents' rights.