FAMILY SERVICES PROGRAM
CIRCUIT COURT FOR HARFORD COUNTY
Karen M. Tracy
Family Support Services Coordinator
The following services and programs are now available to the Circuit Court for Harford County.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Pro Se Assistance Project
- Co-Parenting Seminars
- Children’s Group - Coping with parents who live apart
- Facilitated Visitation Services
- Parent Reunification Services
- Referrals for Psychological Evaluations
- Adoption Investigations
- Home Study Investigations
- Domestic Violence Coordinator
- Circuit Court Masters
Parent Access Programs
Child Custody Evaluation
Dependency Mediation Pilot Project
The Family Law Case Coordinator acts as a liaison between the Harford County Bench and attorney and pro se litigants in domestic cases. Once a request for hearing is filed, the Family Law Case Coordinator reviews the case and determines what the issues are and determines the appropriate next step.
Possible next steps are 1) setting a pretrial conference with a Judge; 2) direct referral for evaluation, divorce education and children’s group in custody and visitation cases, without a need for a conference; 3) referral to a Master on cases other than custody and visitation, i.e., pendente lite child support, alimony, use and possession; 4) referral for facilitated visitation.
Summary of Existing Services
Prior to the requirement of Maryland Rule 16-204, Harford County Circuit Court worked towards establishing a continuum of support services for Family Law Cases. Family services for contested custody cases in Harford County Circuit Court were first established in July, 1985.
Today, this program is well established and continues to cultivate its many partnerships within the community. From its inception of Office of Family Court Services has assisted the Court in determining the best interest of the children in child custody and visitation cases. It has maintained a commitment to redirecting the focus of attention to the needs of children and to promoting the constructive resolution of family disputes.
The Circuit Court for Harford County now operates three basic alternative dispute resolution programs for Family Cases:
The Court continues to offer the option for Mediation Services in accordance with Maryland Rule 9-205. Attorneys may request the Court to Order in accordance with the criteria set forth in Maryland Rule 9-205. Those cases that meet the financial eligibility standard locally established for free or sliding fee service will be referred to the Office of Family Court Services. All others can be referred to a private provider at the cost of $100.00 per hour.
The goal of the Parent Access Program is to Facilitate access between parent and child as well as facilitate the collection of child support payments. Referrals to this program my be either voluntary or Court Ordered. The Court may refer for mediation, evaluation, facilitated visitation, and Parent Education Seminars. In this program, all services are free.
The evaluation process is an assessment of the family where the focus is limited to identifying the child’s needs and the parents’ ability to respond to those needs. Additionally within this process, parents are given the opportunity to use the information to resolve their disputes with a assistance of the evaluator if they so choose.
Cases are referred directly to the evaluation process at the request of the attorneys or after a conference with the Court. The goal of the process is to generate useful information that can facilitate informed decision making and thereby resolve the dispute.
After the final session, a conference is scheduled before a Judge. If a parenting plan has been reached, it is placed on the record and an appropriate order is signed. If no parenting plan had been reached, the evaluator gives a verbal report that is place on the record. The Court uses the conference as a final attempt to work out a parenting plan with the attorneys, parties and the evaluator, all participating in the process. If a parenting plan can be reached at this time, it is placed on the record. Those issues that are not resolved are scheduled for trial.
Cost: Families who meet the financial eligibility standard are provided evaluation services based on a sliding fee scale which ranges from $4.00 to $65.00 per session per parent. Others are referred to private providers who the parties pay directly. These fees range from $700.00 to $1000.00. In appropriate cases the Court may waive the cost.
Dependency Mediation is a form of ADR that provides a confidential, non-adversarial process in a TPR case. Dependency Mediation establishes a informal forum in which each participant is provided an opportunity to express feelings and offer potential solutions to the identified issues for the child and family. This form of ADR is multi-party mediation that may include birth parent, foster/adoptive parents, attorneys for the children, attorneys for the Department of Social Services, Social Workers, CASA and sometimes children (depending upon their age and circumstances of the case).
Where: Wage Connection 975 Beard’s Hill Road (Beard’s Hill Plaza), Aberdeen, Maryland 21001
Currently there is an Evaluator from the office of Family Court Services conduction ADR Services eight (8) hours a week at the Wage Connection in Aberdeen, Maryland.
The Pro Se Assistance Project was established in September 1, 1995. It is a program designed to enable persons to file their own domestic cases without an attorney. Cases include divorce, custody, visitation, child support, modification of custody or visitation, contempt for failure to pay child support and contempt for denying visitation. Forms for filing as well as answering the complaints or petitions, are provided. In addition, assistance is given with explanation of the forms and the filing procedure. Services are provided by appointment, on a walk-in basis and by telephone.
Hours: The office is open Monday - Thursday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and closed on Fridays. It is located on the Second Floor of the Circuit Court building in Bel Air. There is a satellite office located in aberdeen which is staffed on Wednesday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The address is the Wage Connection 975 Beard’s Hill Road (Beard’s Hill Plaza), Aberdeen, Maryland 21001. The phone number is 1-877-297-WAGE or (410)297-WAGE.
PARENTING WHEN FAMILIES LIVE APART
Contact: Roger & Sigai (410) 592-3623
Location: Circuit Court for Harford County, 20 West Courtland Street, Bel Air, Md
When: Classes are held on the third and fourth Thursday of each
Cost: $75.00 per person or sliding fee scale
This program is designed to educate and sensitize parents to their children’s needs during separation and divorce. It also introduces more effective ways to communicate and deal with conflict to promote more sound decision making regarding children after separation. The classes also address the negative impact of an adversarial process as compared to a more child and family focused process.
SOLUTIONS FOR HIGH CONFLICT FAMILIES
Contact: Kathryn A. Roger, MSW or Francene C. Sigai, MS, LGSW (410)592-3623
Location: Circuit Court for Harford County, 20 West Courtland Street, Bel Air, Md
Cost: $120.00 per person
This program was developed to meet the needs of "high conflict" parents who remain entrenched in using destructive patterns of behavior such as battling over child related issues, putting the children in the middle of their disputes and inappropriately using the court system to resolve their differences.
The program provides a structured forum in which to learn and apply skills for anger management, constructive problem solving and conflict resolution. The main objective is to learn appropriate management of behavior when dealing with other parent regarding child related issues.
Coping with parents who live apart
Contact: Peg Mcelwain (4100638-3100or (410)879-2000 ext. 3100
Location: 101 South Main Street, Suite 303, Bel Air, Maryland 21014
When: Tuesday 5:30 p.m.- 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
The spirit and intent of this program is to provide a supportive educational service for children who do not already have one available to them in the community. Therefore, parents may voluntarily request this service for their children or, when there is a formal dispute pending before the court, the Court may order the parents to enroll their children. There are three children’s groups which are held over a six week period. Each group is organized by age (5-8 year old; 8-11 year olds; 12-17). And consists of a 60 minute session, and can accommodate 6-8 participants during each session.
Facilitated visitation services may be ordered when there is a concern or allegation related to the child’s safety and the parent’s inability to respond appropriately. Aside from providing supervision related to safety, this service can also be ordered for a specific number of sessions to assist the Court in generating additional observational information about the parent/child interaction.
The parent reunification service is facilitated visitation with a supervisory and observational function, and has an additional component of psycho-educational counseling to facilitate an appropriate reunification between parent and child.
As a result of a Custody/Visitation Evaluation, or independent of a Custody/Visitation Evaluation, the Court may Order Psychological Evaluation in cases where a party or child’s mental health is at issue. The Court depends on a psychological evaluation to assist in making custody or visitation determinations. Currently, all psychological evaluation services are referred to private practitioners who are willing to provide services to a reasonable rate.
Investigations into petitions for adoption are Ordered by the court to ascertain if the consents submitted by the birth parents are free and voluntary and, if the petitioners are appropriate to adopt. Written reports are submitted to the Court prior to finalization of an adoption.
The Fee for this service through the Office of Family Court Services is $300.00. Petitioners who can afford a private independent adoption investigation are referred to a private practitioner.
Home studies may be ordered by the Court in a disputed custody/visitation case or may be requested by an out of State Agency. They may be broad and general or narrow and specific in scope. A written report is submitted to the Court or referring out of State Agency within the time frame specific in the Order of referral.
The Domestic Violence Coordinator helps victims of Domestic Violence complete Ex Parte forms for immediate protection. Once completed, the petition taken to a Judge for ruling. If granted, a Protective Order hearing is schedule within 7 days and copies of the Petition and Ex Parte Order are sent to the appropriate agencies (i.e. SARC, police, respondent, employer, etc.). If denied, the case is closed. When the parties return for the Protective Order hearing, the Judge will decide if the Protective Order is warranted. If the Protective Order is granted, copies are sent to the appropriate agencies
Circuit Court Masters include:
101 S. Main Street
Bel Air, Maryland 21014
101 S. Main St.
Bel Air, MD 21014
20 W. Courtland St.
Bel Air, MD 21014
These two domestic Masters conduct hearings in their private offices on pendente lite issues of child support, alimony, and use and possession of the family home and/or personal property. The Masters also hear petitions for modification of child support, alimony, and petitions for contempt. The Masters do not hear custody or visitation cases.
A referral is given by the Family Law Cases Coordinator to an attorney or a pro se litigant and it is the obligation of that individual to contact the Master to schedule the hearing.