We have written about the types of cases Family Court hears as well as the significant Orders it can issue. This article will discuss some of the powers vested in the Family Court (FC) Judge.
Juvenile Delinquents/Persons in Need of Supervision- A juvenile delinquent is a person under 18 years of age who has committed a crime. A Person in Need of Supervision is a person under 18 whose behavior may be found to be out of control, such as a truant or run away. These are non-jury cases that are decided by the FC Judge. In addition, the FC judge is the same person who determines sentencing, which can include placement in a juvenile facility.
Family Offense Proceedings- These are certain enumerated crimes [violations or misdemeanors] that can be determined in either the local criminal court or in Family Court. Family Court cannot sentence someone in these proceedings to jail as the criminal court can, but is empowered to issue Orders that can bar a person from her house, significant other, or children.
Abuse and Neglect proceedings- These proceedings may overlap either the local criminal court or the felony [County] court. While Family Court cannot send someone to jail, it can remove children from parents, either temporarily or permanently.
Spousal/ child Support and Paternity- While the decision on support or paternity is determined by a Support Magistrate (an appointed position with limited jurisdiction), the immediate appeal of the decision is made by the FC judge who can decide if the decision was correct; or that it was incorrect and either make changes or send it back for another trial.
Custody- These cases are the bulk of the work done in Family court. While many people walk into my office with preconceived notions (“the mother always gets the children” “everyone gets 50/50”), there are as many outcomes as there are families. In each case, the FC judge needs to decide what is in the best interests of the children for that family.
In actuality, very few cases in Family Court actually go to trial. Based on the heavy caseloads of most Family Courts, the system would collapse if all (or most of) the cases did. Most cases are settled along with the way with the work of attorneys, mental health professionals, and case workers and others who provide support in the system. All of this is managed or navigated by the Family Court judge, which is probably the most time-consuming part of the job. Many of the legal problems that come to the Family Court are actually issues that you need to peel away the layers to find the actual problem that needs to be addressed. The FC Judge needs to “captain the ship” to steer everyone to a resolution that will help the individual or family, and hopefully provide them with tools so that they do not wind up in a revolving door of court proceedings.
June 2019 Margaret Tabak