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|December 10, 2012
Director of Communications
PROBATE & FAMILY PROBATION OFFICERS HELP SETTLE
For many families, Christmas is not a time for sharing a holiday meal and opening presents under the tree or spending time with their children during their school break.
Fractured families—divorced, separated, and never married parents who are at odds with their “exes”—turn to the Probate & Family Court Probation Departments across the state to resolve their holiday feuds over visitation, child support, and vacation schedules.
In the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays and well into the new year, the number of complaints for contempt of court and modifications spike, according to Probate & Family Chief Probation Officers and Assistant Chief Probation Officers across the state.
Although there are no specific statistics readily available that measure these increases in filings, Probate & Family Probation Officers have plenty of anecdotal information and first-hand accounts based on years of witnessing this trend up close.
“The holidays are a celebration of family and Probate & Family Probation Officers are on the frontlines dealing with fractured families. We work with them to resolve their contested issues for the benefit of their children and themselves,” said Richard O’Neil, Probation Regional Administrator for the Probate & Family Court Probation Department.
O'Neil added, “As a result of a Probation Officer's involvement and judicial orders, conflict within families may be reduced and the holidays can become a positive experience for these families.”
It is the job of the Probate & Family Court to help parents and guardians come to a resolution on contested issues brought before the court. If a parent files a complaint for a “contempt,” he or she is referred to a Probation Officer who holds a dispute intervention meeting where the individuals try to work out a solution to their disagreement. A signed stipulation by both parties is presented to the court where a judge must sign off on the agreement. According to O'Neil, 60 percent of litigants reach an agreement that is entered by the court as an enforceable order. This rate of success is reflected in Probate & Family Court Probation departments statewide and is a 10 percent increase over last year.
A request for modification of a court order may also be sent to a Probation Officer for dispute intervention. The Probation Officer works with the family to change the current court order. This is used, for example, when a parent responsible for paying child support experiences a job loss and is unable to pay the amount previously set by the court. In a different scenario, a modification may be filed by a parent who wishes to suspend visits to the non-custodial parent due to safety concerns or requests changes in the current visitation schedule.
If the parties are unable to reach a resolution, a judge holds a hearing and renders a decision on the issues before the court which are typically custody, visitation and child support.
A Probation Officer may also arrange a referral for supervised visits for the non-custodial parent and their child at Christmas.
There are 76 Probation Officers who work in the 12 Probate & Family Court Probation Departments which provide service to the 14 counties throughout the state. The key roles of a Probate & Family Court Probation Officer are to conduct dispute interventions, perform investigations, administer drug and alcohol tests, and enforce the orders of the court.
Probate & Family Court Probation Officers performed 33, 204 dispute interventions statewide in the past fiscal year.