Making Family Court More Successful

Family CourtAt the core, family programmes and concerns reflect our cultural values, leadership prudence, and moral character.

Governments and ministers come and go, but the family, as the fundamental building block of any progressive society, remains forever. That the government of Antigua and Barbuda and more so, the Ministry of Legal Affairs moved swiftly to establish a Family Court is not only timely, but highly commendable.

As portrayed by Senator Massiah, the court’s mission is to help ease the problem of backlogged domestic cases while tailoring its remit to address a broad range of legal and domestic challenges plaguing the family.

Congratulations are also in order to our newly appointed Family Court Magistrate, Veronica Thomas.  Our twin island state has joined an illustrious cadre of nations that places a high premium on the thriving family - the cornerstone of any emerging society. The family court represents one small step towards development and progress.

In the US for example, the 1912 enactment of the New Jersey legislature vested County juvenile courts with jurisdiction to hear and determine all domestic relations disputes. Ohio followed in 1914 with a court consolidation from the domestic relations side, when their legislature passed a bill that created a Division of Domestic Relations in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas with jurisdiction over divorce, alimony matters, delinquency, dependency, neglected and crippled children, adults contributing to or tending to cause delinquency or dependency, and failure to provide support.

Although it was not labeled family division or family court, the Cincinnati Court’s enhanced Domestic Relations Division of the early 20th century is most commonly credited with achieving the nation’s first family court consolidation. The Cincinnati Domestic Relations Division’s first judge, Charles W. Hoffman, chaired a National Probation Association committee on domestic relations court in 1918 which issued a report that discussed the need for the juvenile court to become an integral part of the “family court” Bremner, HR, (1971).

If the national debate is going to be meaningful about the nature and scope of our Family Court, what should we be aiming for? In order words, what would an effective Family Court look like? Although we may argue over the route, I think we all can agree on the destination: a value-based court that offers credible solutions to families in crisis by streamlining laws and programs to meet the goal of a healthy and productive society. 

To do so, the Family Court should have a wide range of discretionary and mandatory powers to fit the particular needs of children, parents, and spouses who come to seek help and/or redress for many of the problems that cannot be resolved within family or the church. Typically, there are no juries in family court; the magistrate conducts a hearing and decides the case. Generally, the court is open to the public and people who are involved with a particular case before the court.

The magistrate presiding over each case should have the authority to exclude the public from the courtroom depending on the nature of the matter or the privacy interest of the parties.

The Family Court judge’s job is to resolve issues that were not resolved during mediation or negotiations around marital property, spousal support, and visitation, as well as other similar issues before the court. Over the last 10 years, family court clerks/administrators have had to ensure that all judges/magistrates are trained beyond family court laws Some family courts have gone as far as to have judges/magistrates specialize in areas that are likely to come before the court.

If the Family Court is going to get it right from day one, the government ought to bolster the family court with institutional support and adequate resources to ensure that its decisions are given full effect, when they are made. Drawing on the cross-cutting resources from various departments and ministries for example, the ministries of Health and Social Transformation, Education, Justice, and Labour could be a collaborative enterprise in the efficiency and well-being of the family life.

It is quite possible that the court seeks to reflect in its image and sensitivities a gender balance.  Perhaps the government could make relevant moves to establish such a reputation.
Finally, the court may order someone to perform community services, counseling, curfew, school attendance, and a host of others activities, which all point to the reformation underpinning of the work of the court. I envision that the government will put emphasis, less on a punitive approach but more on a second-chances redemptive model, especially when addressing issues surrounding juvenile delinquencies.

Should these steps be taken, the family court could be moving in the right direction, and Antiguans and Barbudan, in reassessing their national priorities, will be joining in the work of meaningful social change.

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4 Comments In This Article   


The Message is Great

#4 Guest » 2012-05-11 16:08

What does Dr. Thomas's national identity has to do with his solid advice on improving the Family Court? Come one people? Great advice is great advice!


@ Smoke n Mirrors

#3 THINKING BIG » 2012-05-11 15:59

Dr. Thomas is born Antiguan. He worked professionally in Antigua for many years in government, and he is a stalwart at making goodies to his people up east. But the man is a solid Antiguan will plenty to offer. Neither Bird nor Spencer love their own. These beaten leaders will pay foreign consultants millions for nothing but will ignore locals in a heart beat.

You get development to nowhere and advancement to poverty when you ignore your brightest and best minds...


RE: Making Family Court More Successful

#2 Smoke n Mirrors » 2012-05-11 15:19

Is Dr. Oswald R. Thomas an Antiguan/Barbudan?

Smoke n Mirrors

Solid Advise!

#1 Dr. Peterson Watson » 2012-05-11 08:56

Dr. Thomas are you Antiguan? I ask because I am amazed that your small island has produced professionals of your stage and status, firmly intelligent and well exposed, yet that UPP government continues to ignore local talent at its own peril.

This is a shame. The foundation of every society is its human capital. The government will not turn things around economically, if they seek outside answers to inside problems. Is it possible that the UPP just wants Talking Points for its bid for re-election. I pray not!

I hope Judge Veronica Thomas is wise enough to seek your help, advice and wise intervention in Making the Family Court More Successful.

Dr. Peterson Watson

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Dr. Oswald R. Thomas

Dr. Oswald R. Thomas Dr. Oswald R. Thomas is a Certified and Registered Clinical Hypnotherapist / Psychotherapist with the American Board of Hypnotherapy, the International Association of Counselors and Therapists, and the International Board of Medical and Dental Association. He is founder of the Thomas Center Human Development, Inc. and serves on Bronx Mental Health Committee, served on Community Board #5 in the Bronx, and the Bronx Neighborhood Planning Committee as Chair of the Youth Committee. With a Ph.D. in Psychology, a Master’s in Public Administration, and a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies in Human Services, Dr. Thomas is a counseling therapist/Behaviorist, and Professor at Metropolitan College of New York.

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