Daviess County has the largest caseload of any county in Kentucky without a family court. The Kentucky Supreme Court last year certified the need for two family court positions in Daviess County, but budget constraints have delayed any action.
"The money has not been allocated,” says Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton, Jr. “The budgets have been so strained in the last few years that expansion of any sort has been put on hold. I've not met any resistance from legislators in terms of the need, it's just a matter of the funding."
Minton says family judgeships could possibly be created without additional state appropriations. He says when a judge retires in one part of the state, that judgeship could be moved to a county in need of a family court. The retiring judge would not be replaced if he or she had a small caseload. The Administrative Office of the Courts can decertify a judgeship if deemed no longer necessary because of declining caseloads.
"There are places where the populations and caseloads have grown and there are places where the populations and caseloads have shrunk over time," says Minton. "It's been several generations since we have addressed the deployment of judicial resources around the state, so it needs another look."
Seventy-one of Kentucky's 120 counties have family courts. In counties that don't, circuit judges hear family cases regarding adoption, paternity, and domestic violence. Justice Minton believes families are better served by having judges who specializes in family law.
"The family court concept was that there would be one judge involving one family, so all a family's legal needs could be handled in one court before the same judge,” explains Minton.
When Governor Beshear called a special session this month on legislative redistricting, he left open the possibility that judicial districts could be addressed, as well, but Justice Minton doubts family court will come up in the short, five-day session.