Appendix B: Family Court Features of Other States and National Standards

I. Appendix B: Family Court Features of Other States and National Standards

The structure and features of courts with domestic jurisdiction vary substantially from state to state. There are no national standards. Among organizations with national focus there are broad concepts attributed to family courts, but necessarily, family courts vary between states.

Authorities uniformly recommend that the family court be organized as part of the trial court of general jurisdiction or a separate court equal in stature to the trial court of general jurisdiction.(1)

The family court should have jurisdiction of all cases involving the family and children. The family court should develop nonadversarial procedures to dispose of the majority of its cases. The family court should coordinate the delivery of services to families and children. The family court should assign all legal matters of one family to the same judge.

"Although many recent studies of families and the courts have recommended a unified family court, few jurisdictions have attempted to create such courts."(2)


Other States

The states listed below have established family courts that combine the basic elements of juvenile court jurisdiction and domestic jurisdiction. States that have not met this threshold, such as Colorado, New Mexico, and New York, which omit dissolution of the marriage, are not listed. Numerous states, including Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland are currently studying or have recently completed studies of a family court. This summary mentions only a few highlights for each state.

1. Connecticut; 1978. Family Court established as a department of the general jurisdiction trial court. Further specialization of judges within the family court. Annual rotation of assignments within the division and between divisions. Biannual rotation for juvenile cases. All ancillary services administered within the judiciary; some by contract some by court staff.

2. Delaware; 1971. Family court established as a separate court.

3. Hawaii; 1965. Family court established as a department within the general jurisdiction trial court.

4. Florida; 1993. Family court established as a department of the general jurisdiction trial court by direction of the state Supreme Court rather than by legislation.

5. Kentucky; 1993. Family court established as a division of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County (Louisville) by directive of the Chief Justice. During transition, judges are appointed to the division on a voluntary or involuntary basis by the Chief Justice.

6. Missouri; 1993. Family court established as a division of the circuit court in 6 urban circuits. Remaining 39 circuits have the option to establish a family court. Presiding judge may designate who will sit as a family court judge. Term of rotation is 4 years. Intra-family crimes may be transferred to the family court in the interests of justice. $30 surcharge added to family court petitions to fund family court operations.

7. Nevada; 1991. Family court established as a department of the general jurisdiction court in counties of 100,000 or more. Legislation included authorization to raise property taxes to establish a family court facilities. Judges are elected to a specific department with no rotation. Department has a presiding judge.(3)

8. New Jersey; 1984. The New Jersey court uses a case management unit concept that relies heavily upon court staff. Monmouth County New Jersey also uses an Integrated Case Management Team that is similar in concept to the non-judicial adjustment program in the Utah Juvenile Court.

9. Oregon; 1993. Proposal to permit presiding judge of each judicial district to assign related criminal cases to the family court.

10. Rhode Island; 1961. Family court established as a separate court.

11. South Carolina; 1968. Family court established as a separate court. Combines juvenile and domestic jurisdictions. Judges elected by the state legislature to 6 year term. Judge subject to reelection by legislature if opposed. Does not use one family one judge. Does not use case management unit. No services provided to the parties by the court. Use executive branch agencies and private market place.

12. Vermont; 1990. Family court established as a separate court. Jurisdiction includes civil domestic violence. Appeals are to the state Supreme Court. Judges rotate into the family court every 12 to 18 months.(4)

13. Virginia. Legislation adopting separate family court passed in 1993. Funding and implementation must be approved either in 1995 or 1996. Family court established at the level of a court of limited jurisdiction. Conducts determination of probable cause for intra-family crimes.


A. ABA Standards Relating to Court Organization

1. Section 1.12: "The trial court should be organized as a single level court."

2. Section 1.12(a)(iii): "Family jurisdiction. The court should have jurisdiction over all family proceedings, including those concerning family relationships and all matters concerning juveniles."

3. Section 1.12(d)(i): "Departments should be established as convenience and efficiency indicate, with corresponding assignments of judges and court personnel. Such departments could include criminal, juvenile, general civil, short civil causes, decedents' estates, family relations and the like."


B. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges(5)

1. The Legislature should authorize a division to be designated as the family court. The Legislature and Judicial Council should authorize a formal study to determine workload standards for the courts and related agencies to maximize the provision of court services for children and families.

2. The family court should be a separate facility to allow for centralization of operations which will provide for a holistic approach to the utilization of resources. This will allow for increased public access, efficient use of resources, and a comprehensive information base.

3. There should be orderly management of cases by the family court for the purpose of eliminating duplication of effort, timely resolution of disputes, efficient leveraging of resources, networking with other courts within the state court system and out of the jurisdiction, and providing for consistency in judicial decision making through the use of standardized rules, guidelines and bench books.

4. The family court should be staffed with persons who have a strong interest and experience in family law. They should have a full understanding of the interconnections of each of the units within the family court and be committed to its workings.

5. The procedure of the family court should be consistent with constitutional safeguards but should stress alternatives to the adversarial model.

6. Judges should be assigned or elected to the family court specifically.

7. Judicial appointments should give consideration to domestic relations and juvenile law experience. Appointees should be willing to spend a significant portion of their judicial career on the family court bench.

8. To minimize risk of judicial burnout, family court judges should be assigned to all aspects of the family court docket.

9. The Supreme Court should create incentives for judges to remain on the family court for a minimum of four years.

10. Consideration should be given to the direct calendar or one case, one judge system.

11. In the exercise of judicial authority, the family court judge should be sensitive to the work responsibilities and related stresses of other professionals serving children and families.

12. New family court judges should complete a family court orientation program within one year of taking the bench. Every family court judge should participate in a continuing education program.

13. A family court statute should include the following essentials: (a) an establishment clause with statewide effect; (b) Supreme Court authority to adopt rules of procedure for the family court; (c) jurisdiction as proffered in Recommendations 14 - 17; and (d) court authority to transfer cases as appropriate.

14. Family court jurisdiction should include:

divorce/dissolution matters and all related matters;

child dependency, abuse, and neglect, termination of parental rights, family violence protective orders, children and persons in need of services (CHINS and PINS), and adoption;

delinquency proceedings, juvenile traffic, and status offenses; and

adult and juvenile guardianship and conservatorship, mentally retarded and mental health civil commitment, name change, paternity, emancipation, and legal/medical issues, e.g., right to die, abortion, and living wills.

1. The Supreme Court should establish a family court committee charged with developing rules of court for handling families with multiple cases before the court.

2. The Judicial Council should establish a family court organizational structure to administer the family court. Family court structure should include an administrator directly responsible to the state court administrator. The family court administrator should have the responsibility of coordinating all internal court management activities as well as serving as liaison to those agencies providing case related services.

3. Case related services should be subject to full time professional coordination. Services should include: counseling; liaison to community agencies; guardianship and conservatorship services; restitution, probation, diversion; detention; volunteer services; community outreach services; and family support services.

4. Develop a statewide information system accessible to related agencies.

5. Revise confidentiality laws to allow access to information by court officials.


A. Family Courts: An Effective Judicial Approach to Resolution of Family Disputes by Robert W Page(6)

  1. Careful selection of trained and experienced judges and staff.
  2. One judge; one staff; one family.
  3. Aggressive case management system.
  4. Develop non-adversarial methods for the disposition of cases.
  5. Provide maximum access to court to all.
  6. Develop and use community services and volunteers.

Notes

1. America's Children at Risk: A National Agenda for Legal Action, American Bar Association Working Group on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children and their Families (July 1993). Katz, Sanford N. and Kuhn, Jeffrey A., Recommendations for a Model Family Court, National Family Court Symposium, (1991).

2. America's Children at Risk: A National Agenda for Legal Action, American Bar Association Working Group on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children and their Families, page 54 (July 1993).

3. Rubin, H. Ted and Flango, Victor Eugene, Court Coordination of Family Cases, National Center for State Courts, 52-53 (1992).

4. Rubin, H. Ted and Flango, Victor Eugene, Court Coordination of Family Cases, National Center for State Courts, 53-54 (1992).

5. Katz, Sanford N. and Kuhn, Jeffrey A., Recommendations for a Model Family Court, National Family Court Symposium, (1991).

6. Page, Robert W., Family Courts: An Effective Judicial Approach to the Resolution of Family Disputes, 44 Juvenile and Family Law Journal 1, 25-37 (1993).

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