Family Court Overview
Legal cases involving families require a certain level of tact and care to ensure the safety, integrity, and happiness of the involved family members. Rather than allow such cases to get lost in the jumble of civil, criminal, and probate cases that go through the courts, court clerks often assign these matters to family courts.
Because of the special makeup and function of this Judiciary division, it is important for citizens to understand what a family court is and what role it plays in society. You also may benefit by learning what kinds of cases can be heard in family law court before you decide if or when to take legal action on your own behalf or the behalf of someone in your family.
What is Family Court?
A family court is a court that hears and decides cases pertaining to a wide variety of family matters. It is sometimes also called family law court or simply divorce court. The term “divorce court” only applies of course if the plaintiff and defendant are involved in the dissolution of their marriage, however.
A family court has limited jurisdiction and typically functions as a separate division of a municipal or state court. It can only hear and decide family law cases and cannot by law handle cases that deal with traffic offenses, probate, criminal offenses, code or safety violations, or other legal matters. Those cases have to be assigned by the clerk to either the state or municipal court.
Family court judges also render decisions over the cases that are presented in the courtroom. Family courts do not utilize juries and will not hear trial cases. Those cases must be assigned to higher state or probate courts. However, family courts often exist within the same building as municipal or state courts.
The judges that preside over family court proceedings are either municipal or state judges. They are elected officials and serve anywhere from four to six years depending on the state in which the court is located. They can remain in office for as long as they garner the good will and favor of the voters in the area in which they serve.
They are assisted in their roles by family court clerks. Clerks who work in child support court or assist the presiding divorce court judge have the obligation of assigning cases, summoning witnesses, plaintiffs, and defendants to court, recording and maintaining minutes and records, and forwarding records to higher appeals courts as requested. They are regarded as the historians of the family, divorce, or child support court that they serve. When you ponder questions like what family court near me to pursue legal action, you also should learn what clerk will be handling your case before it is assigned to the family, child support, or divorce court judge.
Cases Heard in Family Court
A family court can hear and decide a wide variety of cases that pertain to family law matters. While many people get married at their nearest municipal or county courthouse, others choose to get married in family court. Family courts can preside over marriages in some jurisdictions.
However, it is more common for family courts to preside over divorce cases. Anyone can file the appropriate paperwork to request a divorce from the divorce court near me. However, many people prefer to hire attorneys who can secure important information prior to filing the case such as where the family court near me is located and what the family court phone number is in case you or the attorney need to speak with the court clerk.
Other people want to find a divorce court near me not only to file for the end of their marriages but also request child support and alimony for their families. Cases involving family court child support arguments must be handled with precision and care. Judges in a family court setting understand that any decision must take into consideration the financial means of both parents involved as well as the upkeep and maintenance needs of the children and custodial parent.
In addition to presiding over marriages, civil union, domestic partnerships, child support, and divorce petitions, judges in family court often hear more contentious family cases involving legitimacy, surrogacy, and guardianship. People who hire a surrogate to have their children, for example, often are required by the state in which they live to get a court order decreeing who has custody of the children as well as who is rightfully recognized as the parents. Without this decree, the surrogate could petition for and receive guardianship or visitation rights.
Cases involving legitimacy also continue to be heard in family court particularly when disputes over inheritances or recognition arise. Judges may have to determine if a child was born within the legal boundaries of marriage and if the child has rights to any inheritance left behind by his or her parents. This decree can also help a child secure access to protections like health insurance or child support.
Finally, judges in family court sometimes hear cases involving trauma and violence. Some of the more common cases of this nature include:
- domestic abuse
- child abuse
- child abduction
- rape or assault of a spouse or child
Judges can issue Protection from Abuse orders, or PFAs, to victimized family members to protect them from their abusers. Law enforcement in the city and county which the family resides is notified of the court’s order as well.
Staff Who Work in Family Court
As mentioned, the typical family court presides over one if not several family court judges. These judges are municipal or state court judges assigned to this special division of the court system. They are elected officials who serve from four to six years before they are eligible for reelection. In some instances, such as an unexpected vacancy, they may be appointed by the state governor to the court.
Court clerks assist judges in their daily functions by assigning cases to the court’s roster, summoning involved parties to court, and keeping records and minutes of the proceedings. The courtroom reporter helps the clerk maintain the record of cases heard in the courthouse. The bailiff assists the judge to maintain order and safety in the courtroom as well.
Outside of the courtroom, you may find other staff members including security or law enforcement that is posted at the doors of the courthouse. Given the nature of the cases heard in the courtroom, tensions and emotions can run high. Security is on guard to ensure that everyone in the courthouse remains safe and that victims are protected from their abusers.
They accomplish this important duty by instructing people going in and out of the courthouse to go through metal detectors or security checkpoints. You may have to empty your pockets or put your briefcase or purse through an x-ray machine. If you have objects on you that could be used as weapons, you may have to forfeit them to the security guards until you leave the courthouse.
Family courts perform important roles in maintaining peace and structure in American families. People can get married, file for divorce, seek child custody and support, determine legitimacy, and handle other family disputes in this type of court. These courts operate as separate divisions of municipal or state courts.