The Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Common Pleas Court is housed on the fourth floor of the new courthouse.
We are a very busy court. In fact, in 2020 we had the fifth-highest incoming domestic relations cases per judge in the state of Ohio. We hear all cases involving divorce, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, and post-decree proceedings related to those matters. We also hear cases involving paternity, custody, visitation, child support, the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities between unmarried persons, and requests for civil protection orders associated with domestic violence and dating violence situations. As you can see, the caseload is varied and unique. Each day is different, and depending on the case, we have different processes and programs in place to best serve the citizens of Delaware County.
As judge of the Delaware County Domestic Relations Court, I am proud of the work we do. In fact, when I look back, it is amazing how far we have come in a short period of time. What do I mean? Well, we are a fairly new court, dating back to only 2017! Before that time, domestic relations cases were handled by two separate divisions within the county’s Common Pleas Court. Cases involving married couples were heard by the General Division. Cases involving unmarried parties were heard by the Juvenile Division.
This “separated system” worked for a long time, but we all know how fast Delaware is growing. Our population has been on a steady increase for many years, and of course, a growing population means a growing caseload.
To better serve our citizens, the Delaware County Common Pleas Court judges requested that the Ohio Supreme Court conduct an analysis of the court and its cases. After a thorough review, the Ohio Supreme Court recommended the creation of a new judgeship to preside over a new, unified Domestic Relations Court. The recommendation was based, in large part, on (you guessed it) the increased population and resulting caseload.
The recommendation had a lot support. The Delaware County commissioners passed a resolution in support of the initiative, and state Sen. Andrew Brenner (then a state representative) proposed legislation for the formation of a new court division and judgeship. Brenner’s proposal was approved by the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate. In October 2015, former Gov. Kasich signed the bill creating the new, unified Domestic Relations Division and new judgeship! On Jan. 1, 2017, the newly unified Domestic Relations Division was created.
Normally one does not think of something that happened in 2017 as being “historic,” but this certainly was. How so? Well, it had been over 100 years since Delaware County had last done something similar, with the creation of a separate Common Pleas Court Division.
The new court division and judgeship, coupled with the increased caseload of the General Division, created the need for more space. The Historic Delaware County Courthouse, which was built in 1868 and 1869, simply did not have the capacity to house both the General Division and the Domestic Relations Division.
So, what did our division look like on Jan. 1, 2017? Well, that is when my term as Domestic Relations judge began, and it looked a lot different than today. To start, I naturally inherited a backlog of cases, and I remain extremely grateful to the judges, magistrates, and staff who worked with me to transfer the existing cases to the Domestic Relations Division. It was a time of reorganization and learning. It was such a unique experience, not only because we were new, but because we really did not have a “home base.” The new courthouse was not yet complete, and it would not be ready for occupancy for another 11 months. That left our division a bit scattered.
Until the new courthouse was complete, I had staff in six different places, including the first and second floors of the Historic Courthouse, the old jail, the first and third floors of the Hayes Building, and, for a few months, in the new courthouse (after approval for Delaware County employees to be there but before approval for the public). As you might imagine, it was difficult to have a unified court division with staff in so many locations, but we worked together to create new court rules and a new case management system. Slowly but surely, we reduced the number of backlogged cases.
In November 2017 things really came together when the Domestic Relations Division officially moved into the new courthouse. It was our first opportunity to be truly unified! It was fantastic to have everyone together, no longer in six locations, but all staff working from one office to help families who were experiencing difficult times.
So, why is this journey of the Domestic Relations Division important? Well, I believe the difficulties we overcame, and the process we experienced in getting our division up and running, have resulted in better service. Simply put, I am thankful for the growing pains because they have made us stronger. To date, we have eliminated all backlogged cases and risen to the pandemic challenge of safely and efficiently advancing our docket using a virtual platform. Beyond the day-to-day though, I must say I am grateful for such a dedicated and caring staff who sincerely want to help families resolve conflict. It is absolutely a team effort in the Domestic Relations Division. In future articles I will be sharing details on some of our new and exciting programs to better serve families going through conflict.
Randall D. Fuller is judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Fuller is a life-long resident of Delaware County.