January 14

Task force to collect comments in Augusta to improve family court

A public hearing is set for 4:15 p.m. Thursday in Augusta District Court where a panel will take suggestions.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A Maine Supreme Judicial Court-appointed task force will hold a hearing Thursday in Augusta to take comments/suggestions on ways to improve its family division.

GOALS

Here are the goals of the Family Division Rules as of 2009 as posted on the state of Maine Judicial Branch website:

1. To promote a timely resolution of family cases.

2. To address promptly the establishment or modification of child support and to promptly enforce compliance with support orders and all other orders in family cases.

3. To provide effective case management for family cases involving children.

4. To facilitate parenting arrangements in the best interest of children at an early stage in the proceedings.

5. To promote education for the parties about parenting issues and to inform litigants about community services available to help them address family problems.

6. To provide court users with a better understanding of court processes.

7. To identify domestic relations cases in which there is domestic abuse or a power imbalance in order to protect children and adults and to ensure a fair resolution of the case.

8. To promote civility in divorce and other family law proceedings.

9. To minimize the harm to children caused by family law cases.

10. To make appropriate referrals to alternative dispute resolution services.

The Family Division Task Force was established last year to advance the mission of “providing a system of justice that is responsive to the needs of families and the support of their children,” according to Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the state judicial branch.

“We’re not looking at any particular law or process,” said Tracie Adamson, manager of the state courts’ Family Division. “We’re looking at the family law process.”

Adamson said the state Supreme Court previously reviewed the rules in 2006 and adopted new rules in 2009 designed to meet the changing dynamic of families involved in the court cases.

“This is an opportunity to see how the court process is working for Maine’s families and children, and how the users are being impacted by the process,” she said.

Almost 25,000 cases were filed in the District Court’s Family Division in fiscal 2013, according to statistics posted on the judicial branch website.

These included almost 2,998 divorce cases involving children and more than 3,227 without children; 2,277 cases involving paternity/parent rights, 6,409 cases of family post-judgment motions, and 369 cases classified as other family matters, which includes emancipation and grandparent rights among other things.

The division also handles 938 child protective, 2,840 juvenile and 5,866 protection from abuse cases; however, because those involve different procedures, they are not the focus of the task force.

The task force will take comments involving child support enforcement cases, Adamson said.

Thursday’s hearing, set for 4:15-6 p.m. in Augusta District Court, is the final of eight hearings that have been held in different regions across the state.

Adamson said the task force would be open to comments on ways to streamline the process and make it easier for families involved in court cases.

“We want to lend an ear to the people using the system,” Adamson said.

At the Jan. 6 Presque Isle hearing, mostly attorneys addressed the task force members, and in Bangor on Jan. 8, mostly people and families involved in the cases appeared, she said.

The task force is also accepting written comments until 5 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24; those can be emailed to lawcourt.clerk@courts.maine.gov, or sent to State of Maine, Administrative Office of the Courts, 171 State House Station, 24 Stone St., 1st Building, 1st Floor, Augusta ME 04333-0171.

District Court Judge Daniel Driscoll, chairman of Family Division Task Force, will conduct the hearing, and Adamson said she expects several task force members to attend. State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who is an attorney, is one of the task force members.

Betty Adams — 621-5631 badams@centralmaine.com Twitter: @betadams

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