Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1999

Abstract

This article proposes an approach to family law decision-making tailored to assist families plagued by substance abuse. Substance abuse is linked to social, health, and economic problems facing Americans today and is a factor for a substantial number of family law litigants. By failing to address substance abuse issues, the family repeatedly may need to seek court intervention. The unified family court model is the concept of a single court that coordinates the work of independent agencies and tribunals, each with some limited role in resolving the problems incident to a family's legal matters. Professor Babb has created an interdisciplinary framework for a unified family court, based on therapeutic jurisprudence and the ecology of human development, to help judges and other court professionals consider the many influences on human behavior and family life, thereby empowering the system to offer more pragmatic and effective solutions to contemporary family legal issues. The authors use the Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, as a case study to illustrate the proposed model. The authors describe the court structure, role of court personnel, and court services. Among the court services are substance abuse resources for litigants. If a judge and/or other court personnel are concerned about substance abuse, they may refer the litigant to a court clinical social worker, who evaluates litigants for substance abuse, prepares a court report, and refers family members to treatment as necessary. For this system to work, expertise in addiction and substance abuse is imperative. The authors conclude that all family justice systems must make a commitment to address substance abuse issues, both by understanding how these issues affect family law cases and by developing policies and procedures to effectively respond to the problem.

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