By Sheena Williams, CFCC Student Fellow 2014-2015
There is a profound distaste for the harsh realities that have settled among a number of poor families, children, single parents, delinquent teens, gay and lesbian couples, and abused spouses. Tomorrow a child in Georgia will be placed in the state’s custody and a family in Chicago will be completely dismantled through a divorce settlement. People all over America are affected by the legal challenges that can arise out of family relations. In 2013 family and juvenile cases made up nearly 130,000 of the 271, 000 cases presented in Maryland’s state courts. That is nearly half of the state court filings, and these numbers represent a similar pattern for state courts across the nation.
While we may have laws and policies to improve the issues, there is a lack of emphasis on providing a comfortable setting that encourages positivity and can essentially lead to a more acceptable outcome for the families and children involved. The court house, for many families confronting their legal issues, can be frightening and traumatic, and not everyone has the means to sufficiently cope with their problems. Thus, it is important for us to have standards for each individual with direct contact or influence on the family members involved in a legal proceeding.
In 1999 judges within Maryland’s Family Division began an effort to improve the court’s effectiveness and partnered with other legal professionals to establish a set of performance standards and measures for Maryland family courts. This team also created a specific mission statement that established a foundation for some of the following goals and values:
- Stabilizing families in transition
- Promoting co-parenting relationships
- Fostering parents as primary family decision-makers
- Maximizing the use of alternative dispute resolution methods and programs
- Providing safety and protection
- Preserving family relationships where possible
- Supporting linkages between resource needs and available resources on behalf of parents and their children
The performance standards and measures were established for those individuals servicing families within the court house and for others who have direct contact with the families regarding their case. These standards sought to improve the quality of service for these fragile families and in the end provide the highest quality of care.2 I agree with the implementation of these standards because I believe that families experiencing legal issues should be approached with consideration, compassion, and care. It may be difficult to completely overcome the “win or lose” effect of a court proceeding, but, with these standards, we can offer hope in an otherwise seemingly hopeless situation.