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State heard child custody cases in separate court

There are certain situations that create a reaction within the community, and some to changes in the way the a local court system functions. An example is found in the state other than Maryland that up until recently heard child custody cases involving unwed parents in a different court from cases involving married parties. Public outrage and legal challenges led to a change in how cases are heard in that particular jurisdiction.

The state in question heard child custody cases involving unmarried parents in what was referred to as "parentage" court. Not only were unmarried parents given access to a different courtroom than married parties, that courtroom was located in converted storage space in the basement of a large court complex. Cases involving married parties were heard upstairs, in a courtroom appointed with more traditional furnishings and equipment.

Parents who experienced "parentage" court told reporters that they often felt as though their cases were not given the same respect and dignity afforded to married parties. In addition to public awareness on the matter, multiple legal challenges were initiated. In an effort to address those issues, Cook County in Chicago made the decision to hear all cases in similar courtroom settings.

For many Maryland residents, the idea that unmarried parents would be forced to have their child custody cases heard in an inferior setting than that made available to married parties is difficult to process. However, it is important to understand that states and counties across the nation handle the day-to-day operations of their legal system differently. The story is also an example of how important it is for community members to make their opinions heard when they become aware of circumstances that seem unjust.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "After legal challenges, Cook County's court for unwed parents quietly goes away", Steve Schmadeke, Sept. 18, 2017

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