Cass County has created a family court division, turning a long-time vision into reality.
This month, 17th Circuit Court Judge William Collins announced the new court, which will hear cases of marriage, separation, child custody, child support and name changes in Johnson and Cass counties. The court also includes juvenile proceedings like adoptions, emancipation and child and adult abuse actions.
Judge Stacey Lett of Division 3 in Cass County was designated as the family court’s administrative judge and Judges Daniel Olsen and Jason Howell of Cass County Divisions 5 and 6, respectively, will join her in hearing cases.
In 2017, the court heard 1,684 of the kind of cases that will now be heard in family court. Lett said that number is likely to stay in the same range.
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“With the assignments and volume of cases covering five divisions, it wasn’t realistic to not have a family court,” Lett said. “Now, it gives us the opportunity for additional assistance and we have someone who can provide sole concentration on these cases.”
Funding the family court in part came from a grant initiative spearheaded by Lett and Circuit Court Clerk Kim York that resulted in $12,000 towards its creation.
For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the court received a grant specifically to provide furniture and toys for children who visit the family court. The idea is that having those in the waiting room will make the experience less traumatic and more kid-friendly. The grant has been renewed for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
The court also received a grant that covers the cost of service and attorney fees that go into prolonged court proceedings. Lett said that if a child is placed in a guardian’s custody, the family court will now be able to check in after and make sure the guardian is fulfilling all legal requirements.
Lett said that establishing the family court means the 17th Judicial Court will now be able to help litigants more swiftly, provide permanency and provide resolutions more quickly.
“We can better meet the greater needs of the people in these counties.”