Monroe County was selected in February, 2000 as one of three pilot counties for the Indiana Supreme Court’s Family Court Project. The initial funding for Family Court was received under a two-year grant from the Indiana Supreme Court, Division of State Court Administration. The Monroe County Family Court has continued its services to families in the legal system beyond the pilot project phase. Family Court currently operates under the administration of Division VI of the Monroe Circuit Court.
The family court concept was initiated as a way to provide a more coordinated approach to families in the legal system. Outside the framework of family court, the judicial system often does not deal with the family as a whole. Instead the legal problems of the family are compartmentalized and separated for judicial resolution, sometimes handled by several different judges. Dealing with each of a family’s legal matters as a separate and independent case may result in uninformed decision making, conflicting orders, and fragmented service delivery. The safety of family members and children may be at risk. A family court approach provides a more effective and thoughtful means to deal with troubled families.
The Monroe County Family Court has identified the following four programming components as vital to the project:
I. Mediation: The Family Court Mediation Clinic was created at the request of Judge Viola Taliaferro, Division VII. In August, 2002, the Family Court Coordinator began working with the Child Advocacy Clinic of the Indiana University School of Law, and the Community Conflict Resolution Project (CCRP) to develop a method of resolving custody, visitation, and related disputes that arise within the context of paternity cases. It was envisioned that law students and other participants could be trained to provide mediation services on a volunteer basis in the paternity court. Implementation of the project began in January, 2003. This highly successful program expanded in August, 2003 to include divorce cases involving child custody and parenting time issues. Families are eligible to participate in the mediation clinic if they are unable to afford private mediation services. The collaborators in the development of the Mediation Clinic believe that the children affected by these cases will best be served by providing a forum for parents to actively negotiate parenting arrangements that protect the child’s best interests.
In March of 2005, the Family Court Mediation Clinic implemented the Domestic Relations Alternative Dispute Resolution Fund Plan of the Monroe Circuit Court. This plan operates under the provisions of Indiana Code 33-23-6-1 to -4. An additional twenty-dollar filing fee is collected from parties filing petitions for legal separation, paternity, or dissolution of marriage. The fee is deposited into the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) fund and is used to foster domestic relations ADR services for litigants who have the least ability to pay. Litigants receiving services covered by the fund make a modest co-payment for the services based upon the litigant’s ability to pay.
During the academic year, mediation services are provided in part by IU Law students who have completed the domestic relations mediation training course and are registered mediators in Indiana. Students work under the training and supervision of Professor Amy Applegate (Director of the Children and Family Mediation Clinic at the IU School of Law) and Colleen McPhearson (Family Court Coordinator). Professor Applegate and Ms. McPhearson conduct mediations for the Family Court Mediation Clinic throughout the year. Senior judges and private mediators may provide services under the ADR plan as well.
In 2008, 154 families received mediation services through this program. By the end of 2008, more than 700 families had been referred for mediation services.
II. Facilitation: Parties are referred to facilitation for assistance with specific issues, such as completing a parenting time schedule, calculating child support, or assistance with completing forms. Parties may also receive information and education to better understand the court process, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, and the Child Support Rules and Guidelines.
III.Investigation Services: Judges making decisions regarding child custody and parenting time can use the assistance of a Probation Officer. The officer, upon order from the court will provide a written report to the court and all applicable parties. The report aids the court in making a well-informed decision regarding the child’s best interests.
lV.Pro Se Assistance: The Family Court Project has been working with the District 10 Pro Bono Project to provide updated and revised court forms for persons representing themselves in divorce cases. The District 10 Pro Bono Project provides assistance to self-represented parties in completing the forms. The Family Court Coordinator also receives referrals from the court to assist parties in providing more complete and accurate information to the court in order to expedite their cases.
The Family Court works in collaboration with outside agencies:
District 10 Pro Bono Project
Address: P.O. Box 8382 Bloomington, IN 47407-8382
Phone: 812-339-3610 and (800) 570-1787
Contact Person: Diane Walker
Intake: phone intake 10 to 12 p.m. Mondays and 2-5 p.m. on Thursdays
Services Provided: Provides civil legal assistance to people who could not otherwise afford it.
A variety of cases accepted including family law, housing, credit issues, and public benefits.
Cost: free for income eligible
District 10 Pro Bono Project: www.in.gov/judiciary/probono/2349.htm
COUNSEL IN THE COURT: Walk-In clinic at the Justice Building providing brief advice and assistance wtih forms regarding Family Law issues- Fridays from 10:00am-12:30pm.
IU Children and Family Mediation Clinic
Address: No Walk-ins, appointments arranged by phone
Contact Person: Ginnie Phero
Clnical Professor: Professor Amy Applegate
Services Provided: mediation of divorce and some other family law matters
Cost: Reduced cost determined on incomes of each party
IU Children and Family Mediation Clinic: http://www.law.indiana.edu/students/clinic/family.shtml