Area court to receive grant

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Recently, Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley announced that Putnam County's Family Court will receive a $2,500 grant from the Indiana Supreme Court's Division of State Court Administration.

Last year, Putnam County's family court served 93 people, including 38 children. The program's local director is Jan Lewis.

The Indiana Supreme Court's Family Court project emphasizes a coordinated, holistic approach to addressing the needs of families with multiple court cases. Family courts coordinate cases and stress common sense, non-adversarial problem solving.

Headley stated that the purpose of the family court project is to ensure all parties have a voice in the decision making process for a family whose dynamics are changing.

"A great percentage of these cases settle when the parties recognize that they are crafting their own agreement through the use of negotiation and mediation tools," Headley said. "Generally, people are more satisfied when they have control of the decision making about their family instead of a long drawn out litigation battle.

"Most importantly, the parties' children benefit because there is not a sense of 'win or lose,' it's an agreement that both parties have opportunity to see each other's position and compromise."

"The goal of family courts is to develop comprehensive, long-lasting solutions for families by coordinating the efforts of everyone involved," said Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. "It benefits families and it benefits the judicial system."

The grants are considered "seed money" and courts are expected to be self-funding within a reasonable amount of time. Putnam County's court was created in 2002 and has received a total of $19,000 in previous grants.

The core component of the Family Court project is coordination of multiple cases involving the same family.

This avoids inconsistent orders and promotes more informed decision making. Options for coordination include:

* One Judge, one family,

* Information sharing between multiple courts,

* Facilitation and pretrial conferences,

* Affordable alternative dispute resolution,

* Family focused service, assessment, or referral for high-risk families, and

* Expeditious and efficient processing of pro-se cases.

"I am grateful for the continuing financial support by the Indiana Supreme Court," Headley said.

"I hope we may continue this service to the citizens of Putnam County. We have lawyers who we call facilitators, who are specifically trained, and who work with the parties to attempt to resolve outstanding issues.

"Cases in which initially no one thinks there is any common ground actually produce an agreement in the end. I think there are several reasons for this, including it's the parties' agreement, not my directive order from the court, topics which may not be permitted in courtroom are discussed, the time of conflict is reduced, and the costs are generally lower."

For more information about the program, call Lewis at 653-5974.

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