Delaware County courts have nine months to organize a new domestic relations court.
The court was created last year by state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich last fall in order to address the growing needs of the county’s court system. The new domestic relations division in the Delaware County Common Pleas Court will hear cases regarding matters like divorce, dissolution, separation, annulment, visitation and child support.
Delaware County attorney Randall Fuller will likely be the new court’s first judge. He won the March Republican primary election and is unopposed in the November election.
The reason for the new court? Above-average caseloads have the local courts feeling uncomfortable with the length of time it takes for cases to be resolved, officials say.
Both general division courts were hearing 600 to 700 cases over the average, they say. Delaware County’s juvenile court heard 5,000 cases last year. The average juvenile court hears 3,000 case in a year. “People expect to come to court, get their case heard, to get a fair resolution … and to get it reasonably quickly,” said David Hejmanowski, county probate and juvenile court judge.
The Ohio Supreme Court has given guidelines for how long different cases should take to resolve, he said. Traffic cases might take five minutes where a murder case might take a month. Domestic cases take the most time. “From the time of filing to the time of resolution, domestic relation cases just don’t move as fast as criminal cases and juvenile delinquency cases,” Hejmanowski said.
As of now, domestic caseloads are divided between the juvenile and the general division courts.
Matters of non-divorce domestic relations — such as child custody, parenting time, visitation and child support — are handled in juvenile court. Divorce cases are heard through the general division courts. There are times the two court systems are duplicating the same work. “People in the different courts are doing the same type of things,” Hejmanowski said.
The new domestic relations court will handle all domestic-related matters — divorces, child support, alimony, property division and custody cases. The hope is it will shorten caseloads, improve efficiency and make the process easier. “Both divisions were getting to a point, despite our best efforts, to keep those cases moving,” Hejmanowski said. “Parenting and custody cases had gotten up to nine and 10 months. That is a long time to find out what happens with the custody of your children.”
The question now is where to house the court because the county’s new judicial center — now under construction — won’t be ready until June 2017.
There’s a vacated magistrate courtroom that can be used on the second floor of the courthouse, Hejmanowski said. Divorce-related cases will stay in the general court division. Non-divorce domestic relation cases will stay where they are currently heard in the Hayes building. The new judge will need to run between the two places to sign documents and approve magistrates decisions, Hejmanowski said. “Not ideal but it would work for six months,” he added.
The new judge has the option to continue with current personnel or bring in new people, Hejmanowski said.
Staff for the new court could include a custody magistrate, two clerks, a parenting coordinator and a person who does early neutral evaluations. “There may be some things the new judge will want that we currently don’t have,” Hejmanowski said.
According to Hejmanowski, the third part of organizing the new court will be the merger of files from the two different court divisions. All the files are currently in a CourtView software database, and they are all numbered according to the court that generated the files. It will be a matter of deciding how to renumber the files, Hejmanowski said. The decision will have to be made by the new judge and the clerk of courts.
Hejmanowski said setting up the new court is a matter of taking the next nine months to make purposeful decisions so that decisions aren’t hurried. “None of it’s rocket science,” he said. “None of it is stuff where we need to hire Harvard experts to come in and tell us how to do it — so we can have a smooth transition that is invisible to the public. That is our challenge for the next nine months.”
Fuller could not be reached this week for comment.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.