Journal Issue: The Juvenile Court Volume 6 Number 3 Winter 1996
Despite great interest in the unified family court concept, implementation has been slow. Many court systems have tried to achieve the benefits and efficiencies of unified family courts through better coordination, without changing the entire judicial structure. Coordination has occurred in a variety of ways.
First, some courts periodically convene personnel who may deal with the same family in different legal settings. It is common practice in these court systems for domestic relations and juvenile court judges and personnel to meet and discuss the administration of child abuse case procedures which arise in one setting and which may be transferred or filed in the other court.4
Second, some court systems have developed procedures that allow cases involving families to be heard together, before one judge. The family's legal business can be addressed in one setting.5
Third, some courts seek to ensure that investigative and supervisorial staff who report to the court concerning child custody and other family-related issues have coordinated their activities with each other so that information is shared. A metropolitan court may have a probation department investigating and monitoring delinquency matters, a social service or children's services agency working on child welfare cases, a domestic relations staff investigating and supervising child custody issues, a child support agency determining paternity and establishing and enforcing child support obligations, and a probate investigator reporting on guardianship issues. These different investigators and supervisors serve various calendars within the same court system, yet they may be responsible for the same child or family. Other court systems coordinate the relationship between criminal court child abuse prosecutions and juvenile court abuse and neglect cases.6
Fourth, the coordination of juvenile, domestic relations, probate, and family-related calendars has led some jurisdictions to examine the representation of children throughout the court system. Some believe that children should be represented by an advocate in any legal proceedings in which their significant legal interests are at stake.7 Other jurisdictions mandate or encourage the same children's attorney or guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child in related proceedings. The coordinated court system makes it more likely that children's interests will be represented regardless of the legal context in which they arise.
Fifth, the goal of case coordination has led some jurisdictions to develop a case management system, including computer software to keep track of children and families within the court system. This allows a judge, agency investigator, or court administrator to learn of related legal proceedings. The use of such information can maximize the coordination of related cases and improve the quality of information available to decision makers within the court system.8