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Family court services (FCS) is a court-run agency that assists families going through divorce, adoption, or custody proceedings. In different regions, family court services may include different programs to help educate families, mediate disputes, and provide general assistance to any person involved in a family court lawsuit. Participation in FCS programs may be on a voluntary basis, or may be ordered by a judge.
One of the most common tasks of a family court services unit is to handle court-ordered mediation in divorce and custody trials. This service is usually ordered when a family cannot come to an equitable agreement among themselves. If custody is involved in a dispute, FCS mediation may be a mandatory requirement before the court allows a contested issue to come to trial. While mediation agreements are not legally binding, they are generally what a judge will use to determine a final settlement. Mediation through family court services is usually not ordered if the family can come to a legal and fair agreement on their own.
In some regions, family court services may also include studies done to determine appropriate custody or permission for adoption. Family studies are often the result of a complaint of abuse or neglect, and are an attempt to determine if there are reasonable grounds to remove children from potentially dangerous custody situations. Studies are typically done over a period of several months, but emergency studies may also be conducted if there are signs of abuse or imminent danger to any minor children. The goal of family studies are to ensure that the basic needs of children are met within their current household, and may include time to rectify any problems before a final determination is made.
In cases where a family wishes to adopt a child, family court services may be called in to perform an adoption study. This is to help ensure that the adopting family is aware of the challenges and responsibilities of adoption, and to be sure that the means exist to properly care for a new child. Adoption studies are not always required for a legal adoption; generally, stepparents do not need to go through an adoption study in order to legally adopt the children of their spouse.
Family court services may include educational and informative help with navigating the family court system. Some offices hold educational workshops for families involved in mediation, or those considering adoption. FCS workers can be goldmines of information in terms of understanding court procedure, required paperwork, and possible outcomes of family cases. The easiest way to contact FCS is by calling or visiting a local family courthouse; appointments may be required in some jurisdictions.
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