When you first go to court on a family matter, you will likely have to see the Family Relations Office prior to going before the judge. The Family Relations officers are therapists who assist the court in resolving disputes. You put your name on a list and wait for your name to be called. And wait. And wait. Your name is finally called and you and the opposing party go into the office, down the hall, and into the individual counselor’s office to discuss your case. If there is a protective/restraining order between you and the other party, you will go into the office separately. If you are represented by a Family Law Attorney, they will go in your place while you continue to wait. Once inside, the parties/attorneys will discuss the pending motion or case with the family relations counselor. The counselor will attempt to mediate an agreement between the parties. If an agreement is reached, the counselor will put the agreement in writing. Regardless of whether an agreement is reached, the parties go to the courtroom next. Agreements are heard and usually accepted by the court. Unresolved matters wait to be tried by the judge, assigned another date or referred to Family Services for further action.
If your family matter involves a dispute about custody of children or if parties are unable to reach an agreement on a parenting plan, the court will likely send the case to be reviewed by Family Services. The purpose of the review is to see what type of assistance they think would be appropriate. Their level of involvement depends on how contested the matter is and what the claims are. Their initial review is called an “Intake.” After the intake of the parties, the Family Relations officer makes a recommendation to the court for a particular service. It could be mediation, conflict resolution conference, an issue focused evaluation, or a comprehensive evaluation. The recommendation goes to the judge and the judge decides whether or not to approve it. If approved, the file is assigned to a particular counselor who then contacts the parties at a later date to start the process and schedule appointments.
The Office of Family Services can be involved at different times and in different ways throughout your case. The counselors mediate, investigate, sometimes report findings to the judge, and make recommendations. They are an important part of the court process and often help resolve matters saving parties time, money and effort.
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