What Does the Family Relations Department of the Domestic Relations Court of Montgomery County, Ohio, do for the court and for the clients of the court?
The Family Relations Department entered into a Memorandum of Understanding Program Description wherein it describes it will provide the following services:
- Guardian Ad Litem Services
- Parenting Time Facilitation
- Parenting Time Investigations
- Home Study Investigations
An Interview with Sandra Fredrick, Manager of the Family Relations Department of the Domestic Relations Court of Montgomery County, Ohio, took place on Monday, June 30, 2008, with the specific intent to answer the question posited above.
Ms. Fredrick advised me that she had been with the Court since 1978, this being her thirtieth (30th) year with the Court. She explained to me that it was during Judge Charles Lowman’s term with the Court that he caused the Guardian Ad Litem program to be initiated to assist the Court with issues of custody, visitation, and other disputed child-related issues, especially for persons who did not have the money to pay for a psychological evaluation of the parties.
While the cost of a private psychological evaluation of the parties and significant others could easily exceed the sum of $2500.00, the maximum cost for the Family Relations Department to conduct an evaluation of the parties, to include a home study, is the sum of only $250.00.
As the appointed Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) for the family, the counselor assigned to the case is charged with meeting with the following persons:
- Each parent in the case and subsequently, with the minor children in the case.
- Any new step-parents or significant others (Current girl-friends and/or boy friends).
- Any other family members or neighbors/teachers who may have information about the children in the pending matter.
The Guardian Ad Litem is also authorized to obtain information from the following sources:
- The schools attended by the minor children to determine if there are problems with attendance, behavior, or academics while at school.
- Childrens’ Services (especially if there are allegations of abuse/neglect).
- Physicians and/or Psychologists/Psychiatrists who may have rendered treatment to one or both of the parties or to the children of the parties. There is a need to determine if either party or if any of the children are affected by learning disabilities or mental health issues/problems.
- Probation officers (if either party has been or is on probation).
- Police Departments (especially if there are records of Domestic Violence and/or a history of #911 calls being made from the home).
- Criminal Justice Information System (“CJIS”) which has been in place since 1995.
Ms. Fredrick advised me that the members of her staff are either Licensed Social Workers (“LSW”) or Licensed Professional Counselors (“LPC”). The Domestic Relations Court pays for her staff to receive Guardian Ad Litem training and Mediation training so that she and her staff are current with educational skills.
The normal hours for this Department of the Court are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays from Monday through Friday. The Department did try to have evening hours to accommodate working clients, but the plan was not workable due to security reasons. The Court only has available security from the hours of 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. each weekday.
Ms. Fredrick also advised me that as of July 1, 2008, the Court will require mandatory mediation of Pre-Decree disputed issues. Magistrate Cozette Snead shall be in charge of this mediation program. In the meantime, the counselors of the Family Relations Department shall be available to continue with Post-Decree Mediation of disputed domestic relations matters.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.