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Sunday, July 29, 2012


Section 25-61 of the Connecticut Practice Book 2012 states: "The Family Services Unit shall, at the request of the judicial authority, provide assistance with regard to issues concerning custody, visitation, finances, mediation, case management and such other matters as the judicial authority may direct."  

In the course of this work, the Family Services Unit uses the family relations counselor who, according the the glossary contained in the "The Divorce Handbook" provided by the Judicial Branch, "mediates disagreements and negotiates agreements in divorce cases." And, as the Handbook further states, echoing the mandate of Section 25-61 of the Practice Book, "At the request of the judge, a family relations counselor may evaluate a family situation by interviewing each parent and the children in the family and writing a report for the judge, making recommendations about custody and visitation.  Works at the branch's CSSD Family Services Office."  

Again, I am reading a brochure produced by the judicial branch and it further defines the role of family services stating that it "is to assist the Court and clients in the timely and fair resolution of family and interpersonal conflicts through a comprehensive program of dispute resolution services, evaluation and education."  

What I am not seeing is any mention of who pays for this and how?  If these services are available for free, and I think the vast majority are, why didn't my attorneys let me know about it?  And why did I end up paying for a private evaluator to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars when these evaluative services were apparently available for free at Family Services?  Is this another example of plain old stupid going on in family court, stupid happening because of stupid, stupid, money grubbing attorneys?  

If you are now interested in what this is all about, there is a "Family Services Frequently Asked Questions" page on the Connecticut Judicial Website which is located at the following link:  

For those of you who are victims of domestic violence, under these FAQs you can see that services are available to you under Question #4 which has the heading "Criminal Court".  In accordance with Connecticut State law in regard to domestic violence, the only DV that family services recognizes is physical violence.  If there has been verbal or economic abuse, you will have a much more difficult time having it recognized in any way.  

If you are going to say, "I'm a victim of domestic violence." the question you are going to get back is, "When has your ex been arrested?"  If you have no answer to that question because your ex has not been arrested because you cannot be arrested for verbal and economic abuse or for controlling behavior, then you will find little recognition or acknowledgment of the fact that you have been abused.  In fact, you could end up being penalized for even mentioning it because such non physical abuse will come across as simply a "he said, she said" matter or an attempt on your part to be vindictive.  

If you are interested in getting more information in regard to this point, look up online on google and youtube, the domestic violence expert Professor Evan Stark of Rutgers University, author of "Coercive Control:  How Men Trap Women in Personal Life".  See the link: 

When you are referred to Family Services, the first thing they will do is meet with you to conduct the Family Civil Intake Screen.  This involves responding to a series of questions "to identify the level of conflict and complexity of issues between the parties" so that the division can determine what your needs are.  Interestingly enough, as a result of using this screen a Study conducted on behalf of the CSSD and published in 2009 has shown that certain factors are generally associated with high conflict divorce.  Specifically, according to the Study "Mental health and domestic violence issues were highly related to the complexity of a case.  Disparity of facts/views resulted most often in comprehensive evaluations being ordered."  

According to the website, the screening "includes questions about current court orders, past and present parenting concerns, and level of conflict between the parents."  The intention of the screening process is triage, i.e. to identify early on what services you case would benefit from receiving and directing you straight to them, which the Study indicated was the most effective and economical approach to providing services.  

If you are interested in the content of the family services intake screen, you can locate an example by looking at Appendix A at the end of the article entitled, "Triaging Family Court Services:  The Connecticut Judicial branch's Family Civil Intake Screen" by Peter Salem, Debra Kulak and Dr. Robin M. Deutsch and published in the Pace Law Review which is available at the following link:  

The Family Services Division provides considerable services to clients:  Alternative Dispute Resolutions Services, Evaluative Services, and Education, as well as assistance in the disposition of family violence criminal cases (i.e. ones that have ended up in criminal court as opposed to ones where there were accusations which did not result in criminal charges.)  Again, there is a big, big difference as to how cases where there are criminal charges and those where there aren't criminal charges are handled and you have to remember that when you are dealing with family services, as I have said.  Charges of abuse where there is no criminal case will be viewed with skepticism.

Alternative Dispute Resolutions Services include: 
1.  Pre-trial Settlement Negotiations; 
2. Mediation; 
3. Conflict Resolution Conferences; 
4. Conciliation Counseling; 
5. Pre-trial Mediation Settlement Services.  

Then there are the Evaluation Services which include:  
1. Issue-Focused Evaluation; 
2. Comprehensive Evaluation.  

And then finally there is Education which involves the CSSD overseeing and managing the Parent Education Programs that are run throughout the State.  

In criminal cases, the Family Services Division provides  "through a comprehensive assessment and intervention plan to prevent, reduce, and stop the frequency and severity of violence against victim/complainants."  

Both Mediation and Conflict Resolution Conferences are confidential. But still I would get verbal assurance of that every time you go to a session.  It never hurts.

Just this one disclaimer:  as I write this article, I'm just reading off the brochures.  I make no comment in regard to the quality of services.

As a matter of procedure, when you come to trial court, the first thing litigants are asked to do is sign up for a meeting with family relations to see if you can negotiate a solution to your problem in advance of standing before the judge.  Thus, if you do it yourself as a pro se party, or if you watch what your attorney is doing, there is a yellow sheet of paper that you hand in to the clerk in the courtroom where you are going to have your hearing.  Among other things, this  paper asks whether you have met with family relations and whether you have come to any agreement.  You are supposed to respond "yes" or "no" to that question.  Marshalls in the courtroom regularly walk around and check with litigants to see if they have already gone to family relations.  If they haven't, they will direct you there. 

Of course, I've looked at some of these ladies who are family relations counselors and they look as though they have been hit by several trucks, so I am not sure how capable they would be of helping you out, but officially this is what they are supposed to do, so I am letting you know.  

The advantage of working with private mediators is that they are not as overwhelmed simply by the massive numbers of individuals requiring help.  The down side is that private mediators cost considerable sums of money.  And, of course, there is the whole other issue of whether mediation of any kind is called for under circumstances where one of the parties is an abuser.  That is an entirely different conversation which would be extensive and detailed and goes beyond the scope of this current blog.  

I would be interested in hearing what your experiences are.  Have you benefited from family services?  Or do you have a nightmare story to tell!