You may be there seeking a divorce settlement, child custody, an increase (or decrease) in child support or visitation. Most people don’t ever want to be in family court, but it serves a valuable purpose within the court system.
Family court stands alone in its purpose among other types of courts such as criminal, civil and municipal.
“Many criminal and civil court cases are about winning and losing,” says Judge Monique Centeno, the family court judge for Sedgwick County, Division 11. “Family court is about what is fair and equitable … and often what is best for the child(ren). Sometimes the best resolution to a case leaves both parties unhappy.”
Because the goal is fairness and equity, Judge Centeno is allowed to consider more than just what the law says. She encourages people to set aside their emotions and focus on what’s best for everyone involved: partners in a domestic dispute, children, and sometimes even grandparents appearing before her seeking visitation rights.
Judge Centeno cautions, “Even though it’s all about fairness, family court is still serious. People need to have all their paperwork in order and completely filled out. You still have to prove your case, even if you are in the right. Witnesses are allowed if they help make the case.”
She recommends using an attorney if possible, but realizes many people don’t think they can afford one.
“If you contact them as soon as you think you might be in family court, Kansas Legal Defense accepts some cases on a sliding scale based on ability to pay.”
There are also attorneys who will accept cases on a “per hearing” basis with no retainer or hourly fee.
If you are representing yourself, she says the Family Court website has forms, guidance about courtroom etiquette and a lot of other helpful information.
“Often the best outcomes happen when people are able to set aside their emotions and realize they both want the same thing, they just come at it from different sides,” Judge Centeno says,
Some cases, she says, are resolved in the courtroom without the judge presiding. “There are tears and hugs and people work it out on their own.”