Progress on a family court Domestic cases: Maryland families may soon have swifter claim on judicial attention.

April 03, 1996

IF THE AMERICAN family were in healthier shape -- fewer divorces, fewer custody cases to resolve, fewer child support payments to collect, fewer children in need of foster care or adoption -- Maryland's current judicial structure might not prove such a heavy burden on so many of its citizens.

But the fact is that 50 percent of many court dockets in Maryland involve domestic cases and, all too often, the families have to stand in a long line for judicial attention -- thus stringing out what is already a painfully extended and confusing crisis. Under the current structure, it is possible for one family to face the bewildering situation in which its affairs are handled simultaneously by a District Court judge, a Circuit Court judge and a Juvenile Court judge -- none of whom has any knowledge of what the others are doing.

The good news this year is that, after too many years of study and delay, plans for a family court are moving ahead in Annapolis. The House of Delegates has approved legislation creating a family division within the Circuit Courts of Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties. That bill is now pending in a less friendly Senate, but one which surely must take note of the overwhelming support in the House -- and of the repeated studies showing a family court is a good idea.

Meanwhile, because of the groundwork laid by family court advocates in the state, the American Bar Association has made Maryland one of five states in a family court pilot project. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this project would provide financial support in addition to the invaluable in-kind assistance of people with a great deal of experience in setting up and running family courts.

Together, the legislation and the pilot project could hold out the promise for movement at last toward a court that would better serve the needs of Maryland families.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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