Time for a Family Court

March 25, 1995

Any courtroom, however tedious its routine may seem, contains countless untold dramas. Not all of them arise from sensational crimes. In fact, fully half of the caseloads before many Maryland judges relate not to murders or muggings or thefts, but rather to domestic problems. From protection orders against abusive family members, to attempts to collect child support, to the hearings required by law when children are removed from their homes or put up for adoption, family matters are big legal business.

Over the years, the need for more coordination and consolidation in these cases has become increasingly evident. In recent years, two thorough studies of Maryland's family law and the legal system within which it operates have concluded that the judicial system would operate more effectively and efficiently with a unified system of handling family-related cases. Instead of endless delays in adoption proceedings, or the confusion that arises when different courts have jurisdiction over different members of the same family, or the postponements caused when requests for child support enforcement or protection orders are backed up behind a long line of unrelated cases, a family court with jurisdiction over all these matters could speed things along.

That dream has a good shot at moving closer to reality this Monday when the House Judiciary Committee votes on a bill that would create a separate family division within the circuit courts of the state's largest jurisdictions -- Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Cost is not a barrier; initial estimates failed to take into account the savings created by better coordination and elimination of overlapping jurisdictions. Committee members have also addressed the concerns of judges, by providing that family court judges would serve only four-year terms on that bench.

AMaryland has studied the issue long enough. It's time to create a family court.

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