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Family Court offers update on its improvements

Sarah Mueller

Gov. John Carney and other state officials heard more about work to improve Delaware’s Family Court Tuesday.

Delaware received a $400,000 federal grant to help victims of domestic violence in 2013. That funding ends this month.

The process used to petition the court for protective orders against a loved one due to abuse was one area addressed.

Family Court Commissioner Andrew Southmayd said that included how best to present information to people seeking protective orders and other relief provided by Family Court.

“They have to hear it, they have to read it, they have to have it told to them," he said. "And we have to give all opportunities because people are all different kinds of learners, especially in an emotionally charged atmosphere, especially if you have a history of trauma.”

Another issue Family Court worked on with that money is what’s known as a cattle call. That’s when all plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses come to court at the same time - sometimes crossing paths.

Family Court Chief Judge Michael Newell said New Castle County hearings are now spread over two days and litigants are video conferenced together from separate courtrooms. But he points out there’s not enough space in Kent and Sussex counties to do that.

“In Sussex County, we operate with about 30-35,000 square feet and the architectural designs indicate we need 100,000 square feet," he said. "In Kent County, it’s 45,000 that we have and we need 100.”

Newell said he would like the state to budget money to address the space restrictions in Kent and Sussex.

He adds other progress has been made to make Family Court more welcoming. Signage in different languages is up and easy to understand fact sheets are now in resource centers. There’s also a video on what to expect in Family Court at the court’s website.

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