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School of Law

Unified Family Courts in Depth

 

What are Unified Family Courts?

 

The Unified Family Court is a single court system with comprehensive subject-matter jurisdiction over all cases involving children and families. The court coordinates efforts to produce resolutions tailored to an individual family's legal, personal, emotional, and social needs. UFCs are a response to clear and devastating problems.

For many lawyers and judges working in family law, it became apparent years ago that the justice system was not working as well as it could or should for the parties and for society as a whole. The family justice process was expensive, inefficient, and often traumatic, and it did not make the most effective use of community resources that could help families undergoing difficult transitions. This growing recognition of a fractured family justice system created urgency for law reform. Professor Barbara A. Babb, the founder and director of CFCC, was one of the early proponents and continues to be a leading scholars arguing for a refashioned approach through her interdisciplinary model of a Unified Family Court. Professor Babb's scholarship outlined a blueprint for a Unified Family Court.

A basic concept of Unified Family Courts is that the family justice system must aim to improve the lives of the families and children involved by addressing both the legal issues in family law cases, such as divorce, custody, child support, and domestic violence, and the non-legal issues, such as substance abuse, mental health problems, and poverty. Further, in a Unified Family Court, matters affecting a family are considered by judges who have a holistic understanding of the families' and children's lives. A Unified Family Court draws upon services and community resources to help families address their needs and solve their problems. A Unified Family Court is user-friendly and accessible to everyone, including the large numbers of self-represented litigants in the family justice system. The Unified Family Court model results in increased court efficiency; more coordinated and effective decision-making; and cost savings for clients, attorneys, and the court system.

CFCC is one of the national leaders in the effort to mitigate the harms of the traditional family justice system, while promoting and refining the Unified Family Court model. CFCC works to create, implement, improve, and evaluate Unified Family Courts. Instrumental in Unified Family Court development in Maryland and throughout the nation, CFCC provides educational programs, technical assistance, evaluations, and training to jurisdictions, judges, attorneys, court personnel, and community leaders.