NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – During divorce settlements and custody disputes, a child’s voice can easily be drowned out by the parents. Hampshire county’s Probate & Family Court launched a pilot program this spring to make sure this doesn’t happen.
It’s called Family Resolutions Specialty Court, and no other county is offering it. This is the first program in the state that factors what kids want and say into court cases. The setting is informal, seating parents, attorneys, and the judge at the same table. An attorney is assigned to represent the child. A mental health professional and a probation officer are involved as well.
Northampton attorney James Winston explained the goal of the program, telling 22News, “You, as a child, are going to be guaranteed to have a voice through an attorney. The child’s not actually going to go into the courtroom, but their attorney will represent their position in court.” Compared to a traditional court setting, where a child’s involvement is shielded as much as possible.
Hampshire county adopted the program after seeing how it resolved cases faster and more civilly in Australia. So far, there have been about 10 families who have participated in this new style of family court.
Winston says the benefits of family specialty court are already outweighing those of traditional court settings. “It’s really cutting edge to have this more, if you will, humane way of getting divorced.”
Family court Judge Linda Fidnick told 22News parents complete the program less angry, and kids are more satisfied with the outcome. Judge Fidnick is hopeful other counties will also adopt family specialty court.