Howard lawyers protest delays in divorce hearings


Delays of as much as six months for hearings on child support and alimony have left some separated spouses and their children in dire financial straits and have prompted the Howard County Bar Association to complain to the administrative judge of the Howard County Circuit Court.

Jerome S. Colt, a Columbia lawyer and chairman of the association's domestic relations committee, said yesterday that he met recently with administrative Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. to discuss the backlog in domestic relations cases.

"It is taking six months from the time we make a request until we can bring child support and alimony matters before the master," he said.

In the past, attorneys waited 60 to 90 days to bring support cases before a master for a preliminary ruling before cases were sent to a Circuit Court judge.

"Sometimes, it is an awful long time, if they don't have the resources to support themselves," Mr. Colt said. "For a lot of people, that initial determination of support is one of the most important decisions made in the entire divorce process."

Even emergency hearings on child support and alimony can take 90 days for a hearing, he said. Bernard A. Raum, one of two county Circuit Court masters, said the situation has gotten so bad that "everybody has been filing emergency petitions, and we are tightening up on that procedure."

The backlog, which has occurred over the past 2 1/2 to three years, "is a question of resources," he said. "We suggested more support staff to help with the docketing of cases, but the budget won't support it."

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