A major study released last month by the New York State Bar Association urged greater support for Family Courts, calling for more judges and resources to handle cases of child support, neglect and abuse, foster care and other family issues.
The findings of the comprehensive two-year study are included in a 198-page report approved by the Association’s House of Delegates on January 25.
“The lack of judges to hear the overwhelming number of cases involving the safety and well-being of children results in long delays, piecemeal trials, uneven access to justice and a public perception that the forum is ineffectual and unworthy of community confidence,” the report states.
The study found that it can take months and even years to resolve some cases involving children. It pointed to an inadequate number of Family Court judges and staff to handle a burgeoning caseload that has led to overcrowded dockets, confusion and frustration for litigants, delays and multiple adjournments.
“With overcrowded dockets, too few judges, and far too many delays, these courts resemble hospital emergency rooms, and our family law attorneys are forced to perform triage,” the report states.
Many families appear in Family Court without attorneys and must negotiate a complex court system without adequate help. A survey of 95 litigants about their experiences in Family Court in four counties (Queens, Wayne, Monroe and Saratoga) found that more than three-quarters were not represented by attorneys. Mediation programs that could resolve many matters without courtroom intervention are not being used to the fullest extent possible.
The report’s 26 recommendations include authorizing more judges, expanding the use of mediation, along with the expanded use of video technology and e-filing to improve efficiency, and increased funding for longer court hours, training, security and facility upgrades.
“The shortage of judges can no longer be ignored,” said State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). “We recognize the economic challenges facing the state. We also recognize the irreparable harm to children and families when the Family Court system is crippled by insufficient staff and funding.”
To read the full report, visit www.nysba.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=News_Center&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=147720.