What is the Unified Family Court?

In December 1996, the Commission for the Future of Justice and the Courts in North Carolina published its report, Without Favor, Denial or Delay, recommending a design for the court system of the future and strategies for how to achieve it. One of their significant recommendations was the implementation of unified family courts across the state. Ten years ago, the Commission members recognized that families were changing and facing new challenges and stressors making their court cases more complex, and that there were growing numbers of juvenile and domestic cases crowding district court dockets. Because of heavy caseloads, judges had little option other than to handle these sensitive matters in much the same as other cases – “that is, as an isolated matter, in which the speed of resolution is largely determined by attorneys and litigants.”

Commissioners went on to describe specific problems brought about by such case processing:

  • Numerous judges handling various parts of the same case resulting in lack of communication and inconsistent court orders
  • Delays used by one party to create hardship for the other
  • Children in foster care remaining longer than was necessary
  • Juveniles punished for crimes without having issues (e.g. psychological, personal, family) that brought them into delinquency court addressed; and
  • Family problems resulting in juvenile offenders and ultimately leading to growth in criminal court caseloads.

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The Commission concluded that the courts could improve the most by changing their handling of domestic cases. They recommended that a new way of dealing with family-related cases was necessary, one that “respects the rights of each individual family member, promotes the best interest of the family and helps families structure their own solutions.” They further suggested that “this forum should be fully accessible to citizens, regardless of economic status, and should encourage the non-adversarial resolution of disputes whenever possible.”

Still, 6 years after the first Unified Court became active in North Carolina, except for Buncombe County, we do not have a Unified Family Court system in most of Western North Carolina.

Source: North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts

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    705 W. Main Street
    Sylva, NC 28779
    Phone: 828-586-2147
    Facsimile: 828-586-2605

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    211 Cashiers School Road
    P.O. Box 1918
    Cashiers, NC 28717
    Phone: 828-743-2401
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    Franklin, NC 28734
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