About The Family Court Project
History and Development of the Family Court Project
The Family Court Project was initiated in 1999 as a cooperative effort between the General Assembly and the Indiana Supreme Court. The purpose of the Project is to develop common sense models to better serve children and families in our courts. The initial emphasis of the Family Court Project was to create models to coordinate families who have multiple cases pending before multiple judges and to share information. Over time, the scope of the project broadened to include various types of family-friendly programming.
Beginning in 2000, three pilot counties – Johnson, Monroe, and Porter – developed family court models under the direction of the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration (now the Indiana Office of Court Services), with guidance from a statewide Family Court Task Force, led by The Honorable Margret G. Robb of the Indiana Court of Appeals. A private family court consultant assisted the pilot counties.
Most of the family court projects involve only one county, but some projects have included multiple counties. Each family court project develops model processes and programs tailored to its needs and resources. The original counties remain actively involved in the statewide project and continue to share ideas and mentor new pilot counties. Programming types included service referral, direct service case management, truancy programming, assistance for self represented litigants, mental health related services, and high risk screening.
In 2011, the Family Court Steering Committee sought input from current projects and from trial court judges who had not participated in the project. Based on the feedback received, the project was amended to broaden the focus from coordinating families with multiple cases to developing innovative programming in family law cases. In 2017, after reviewing which of those projects produced replicable positive results for families, three major areas of emphasis were identified for support moving forward: Alternative Dispute Resolution Fund Plan Start-up, Access to Justice/Unrepresented Litigant Assistance, and Judicial-Academic Partnerships.
Looking Forward: New Programming Focus Areas
Access to Justice/Unrepresented Litigant Assistance
Increasing numbers of self represented parties need assistance in filing appropriate pleadings and presenting needed documentation to the court in family law cases. Some counties have chosen to coordinate a volunteer self represented litigant help desk or legal clinic to answer basic legal questions and help self represented litigants obtain access to and complete basic pleading forms. In 2016, over 2000 Hoosiers received self help assistance through their local Family Court Projects.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Fund Plan Start-up
Families benefit from affordable services that enable them to resolve their own disputes with the assistance of a neutral professional, and to take increased responsibility and ownership in the result. As of 2017, 44 counties have adopted ADR Fund Plans under 33-23-6, manny of which have administered those programs jointly with their Family Courts. ADR programming can take several forms, including mediation, which uses a registered mediator to help parties resolve pending cases in accordance with the ADR Rules; facilitation, a more flexible model that uses a “neutral” to help parties reach resolution but which is not subject to the ADR Rules; parenting coordination, a more long-term process for high conflict families; and parental counseling to help families learn to work more cooperatively to place the needs of their children first. Through a Family Court Project Grant, counties without a ADR Fund Plan could complete the adoption of a Fund Plan and immeidately start using grant monies to refer families.
Through grants provided to courts, academic partners are able to be engaged to conduct research, analyze court practices and services, and determine if evidence supports the effectiveness and efficacy of the programming and processes in use. In 2017, one such partnership began studying the comparative effectiveness of two online parenting programs in family law cases.
Legislature and Court Improvement Program (CIP)
The Family Court Project began in 1999 with an annual appropriation of $200,000 per year from the Indiana General Assembly. This appropriation was later expanded. Additionally, the Family Court Project has at various times received federal Court Improvement Program grants for pilot family court counties with family focused programming for child abuse and neglect cases. The grants provided by the Family Court Project are now fully funded through the judicial branch's budget.
The bulk of the family court funding is distributed each year to counties as seed grants. From the inception of the Family Court Project through the middle of 2017, over $3.5 million has been distributed directly to family court counties. The remainder of the family court funding covers the cost of the Family Court Project Manager and statewide meetings.
A significant source of revenue for family courts is community funding and collaborative grants. Some family courts entered into collaborative grants or resource sharing agreements with local mental health providers, local offices of the Department of Child Services, and youth service bureaus. Many counties have obtained local government funding through court or probation budgets for ongoing program maintenance. During 2011 the pilot counties raised over $1.58 million in local funds through community and alternative funding sources.