Maryland Courts

Family Services Program

Patricia Witmer
Family Support Services Coordinator

(240) 313-2580

The Following Services and Programs Are Now Available to the Circuit Court for Washington County

Courthouse Family Law Clinic/Self-Help Assistance

The Courthouse Family Law Clinic has been available to citizens of Washington County since July, 1997. This clinic is provided through a contract with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service ("MVLS"). Every Thursday from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., an MVLS attorney is available within the courthouse room 229, to assist self-represented litigants who meet the income eligibility. Legal advice is provided in family law matters for which domestic relation forms exist. For individuals whose income exceeds MVLS guidelines, the attorney will identify the issues and provide the appropriate forms.

Co-Parenting Seminars

Fiscal year 2001 was the first year that the Circuit Court for Washington County ordered divorcing and separating parents to attend the Children of Separation and Divorce parenting seminars. The purpose of these seminars is to give parents skills to mitigate the effects of the family dissolution on their children.

Topics include: Understanding the grief process, Explaining divorce, Changes in the parent-child relationship, Childhood development and the impact of divorce, Assessing your child's needs, Putting children's needs first, The parent to parent relationship and developing a constructive co-parenting relationship.

This program is available through a private provider who has been certified to teach the course. Parties contact the provider directly to register for the next available six-hour course. The cost of the seminar is $100 per person. The cost may be provided through the Family Law Fund for income eligible parties. Seminars are usually held on the 1st and 2nd Monday evenings of each month from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Custody Evaluations

Often in contested custody cases an investigation involving the competing homes, the parents and the minor(s) is valuable to a Judge when determining the best interest of the child or children. The Circuit Court for Washington County has seen an increase in the need for this service and anticipates further increase in the future.

Private contractors conduct home studies. Orders direct the parties to contact the private contractors to schedule appointments to meet with them individually. All parties are observed at least once interacting with the child(ren) involved. Extensive his troy data is collected on each party, and background searches are conducted on all persons within each household. Each home study is usually completed within 60 days. In emergency circumstances a home study could be completed in 30 days. The cost of the home study is $350.00 per party. If Family Law Fund is to pay the cost of the home study, that payment is subject to reimbursement.

Attorneys For Minor Children

In contested custody cases the Court sua sponte or by way of a motion filed by one of the parties may order an attorney to represent a child's best interest or to be a child's privilege attorney. The parties are ultimately responsible for payment of the attorney for the minor child(ren). However, payment upon waiver can be made through the Family Law Fund.

Mental Health/Custody Assessments

Mental health/custody assessments are conducted by a licensed clinical social worker. The social worker meets with each parent and child(ren) individually and jointly, and, following professional guidelines, timely submits a report to the Court. The parties are responsible for payment of the social worker's fee, as ordered by the Court. If parties are income eligible, payment can be made by the Family Law Fund, subject to reimbursement.

Parent Coordination

Parent coordinators are experienced, licensed mental health professionals trained to work with high conflict divorcing/estranged parents as a neutral third party. The purpose of parent coordination is to minimize children's exposure to parents' conflict by assisting parents in developing and implementing agreements that meet the children's' needs for health development and reasonable access to each parent. The Court orders parent coordination in high conflict divorce/custody cases, and the parties are responsible for payment of the fees of parent coordinators.

Mediation Services

When appropriate, the Circuit Court for Washington County will order parties in child access cases to resolve their disputes through mediation. "Mediation" as defined in Maryland Rule 17-102(d) means a process in which the parties appear before an impartial mediator, who through the application of standard mediation techniques generally accepted within the professional community and without providing legal advice, assists the parties in reaching their own voluntary agreement for the resolution of all or part of their dispute.

Washington County has a list of mediators approved to conduct mediation involving child access disputes. Mediators will conduct one 2-hour Court-ordered session, with a possible second session at the discretion of the mediator. The cost is $200 per hour, to be paid in equal shares by the parties. The cost may be provided through the Family Law Fund for income eligible parties, subject to reimbursement.

Supervised Visitation

Washington County has one program for supervised visitation. The provider is through state-funded agencies and is limited in the number of persons who will be able to utilize the service.

The Parent-Child Center, Inc. will provide supervised visitation that is Court ordered. Once a party has an order for supervised visitation it is their responsibility to contact the Parent-Child Center to establish a schedule for and location of the visitations. The cost of the supervised visitation is $25 per hour per child, to be paid by the party utilizing the service.

Substance Abuse Evaluation

The Circuit Court for Washington County has a state-approved provider that conducts substance abuse evaluations and submits reports to the Court. In child access cases, the Court may order persons to receive evaluations. Parties are responsible for the costs of the substance abuse evaluations. The costs may be provided through the Family Law Fund for income eligible parties, subject to reimbursement.