Del. roundtable discusses the enhanced court experience for litigants in child custody involving domestic violence
DELAWARE – Going to court can be a tough experience, it’s overwhelming and stressful. But imagine being in the emotional trauma of child-custody involving domestic violence. Delaware has been working on a Family Court Enhancement Project to ease the process.
Back in 2013, Delaware was among four courts nationwide to receive a $400,000 federal grant. From that point forward, multiple partners have worked together these past few years to protect victims and their children. They were able to listen to the community, volunteers, attorneys, advocates, and survivors.
Through the Family Court Enhancement Project, Delaware has been able to create less traumatic experiences the past five years.
On Tuesday, Governor John Carney had a roundtable to discuss those improvements.
A big highlight is the creation of a PFA day, PFA meaning protection from abuse. Program Director of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Eryn Branch says, “They’ve established their PFA days, so if you are getting a protection from abuse orders, you don’t want to be before a judge whose hurried and you want to have good information from your resource center.”
Besides that, litigants are able to be educated on the court system from the very beginning. “When they walk into the court house on a PFA day, they will be told by one person on how this day is going to be about. Before they come in for their hearing, to be presented with infographics and written information about how what they need to understand, what the process is going to be,” Chief Judge Michael Newell says.
From the beginning, both parties watch a video to make sure they understand all the basics. But it’s not just the litigants who are being educated. We’re told each court across the state has these infographics to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Another important role is having a DV coordinator who can help the victim.
But there’s always a need for improvements. One thing that stood out was the need for bigger courthouses, specifically Kent and Sussex county. Currently, Sussex has 35,000 square feet and they need about 100,000. This will give them access to more resources. Chief Judge Newell also said they need to continue to improve compliance monitoring as well.
But in order to make improvements, the courts need to continue to have an open dialogue with the community. “In this process, we had advocates, we had attorneys, and so we had information from external sources, so to be able to tell us what to improve upon. So we need to continue that because without that dialogue, we just stay stagnant,” Chief Judge Newell says.
With the many community leaders in the room, we’re told that they have made the court experience much more welcoming. But that’s not the only good news from the roundtable. Governor Carney also signed a proclamation marking October Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic violence, the Life Crisis Center has a 24/7 hotline to help.