More than half of the contested divorce cases filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court are still unresolved more than two years after filing, causing unnecessary strain on the families involved, according to a recent study by the county's Commission on Women.
The study, undertaken because of complaints to the commission about the divorce process, concluded that establishing a Family Court would be the best solution to the problem.
During the waiting period for a divorce, questions for permanent custody of the children, financial support and disposition of assets remain undecided, taking a heavy emotional toll on those involved, the report said.
In the "Family Law Project Report," the commission studied a 10 percent random sample of the 2,048 divorce cases filed in the county's circuit court in 1977.
It found that uncontested divorces took about seven-and-a-half months to complete. But of 31 contested divorces selected from 1977, the study found 16 were unresolved in April 1980.
The report also said emotional support that could be provided through human services agencies for the 2,000 families a year who come to circuit court for a divorce was meager.
The commission undertook the study after continued complaints about the divorce process and more than 1,200 requests for assistance in legal and marital problems over a six-month period last year.
Possible remedies, the report said, were to increase the number of circuit court judges, currently at 11, added to the four masters who serve the court or establish a family court.
"Whenever you have a divorce case, it (the hearing time) is almost always (TBA) to be announced," said Susan Ness, former president of the commission, who worked on the report. "If the judge can squeeze it in at the end of the day, that's what happens. For the parties involved, it's a very, very traumatic process.
She said that a family court would be able to handle divorce cases such faster and with better supporting services.
"The idea of having all legal matters relating to a family handled by one court is a compelling concept. Surely it makes sense to have juvenile, domestic and criminal matters relating to a particular family go through one court system and the services offered by that system," the report said.
Commission President Dorothy Fait, an attorney who coordinated the project, said the women's group plans to present the report to the statewide Commission on Judiciary, one of whose mandates is to study the feasibility of a family court.