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Trends in State Courts



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In fiscal year 2014, 43 percent of all cases filed in Maryland’s trial court of general jurisdiction (the circuit court) were family law cases (Court Operations Department, 2014: CC-5). Historically, Maryland courts, like many states’ family justice systems, lacked a uniform structure to consolidate family law issues for an individual family. As a result, families often faced multiple hearings before different judges in different courtrooms to address a variety of issues, such as divorce, domestic violence, delinquency, and child abuse/neglect. This system created tremendous hardship for families (particularly low-income families, many of whom were self-represented litigants) and resulted in fragmented service delivery and inconsistent decision making. Through the leadership and dedication of former Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, in 1998 the judges of the Maryland Court of Appeals signed Maryland Rule 16-204 (see Babb, 2013: 1126). This rule created family divisions in the circuit courts of Maryland’s five largest jurisdictions and transformed how Maryland courts handle family law cases.