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FAMILY COURT - NEW CASTLE COUNTY

A Family Court for New Castle County, Delaware was created in 1945 to expand the functions and responsibilities of the former Juvenile Court. Its purpose was to “secure for each child under its jurisdiction such care, guidance and control, preferably in his own home, as will serve the child’s welfare and the best interests of the state.” The court was also given jurisdiction in all matters pertaining to a family that needed legal remedies.1

The judge of family court was to be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate to serve for a six-year term. The judge was to recommend to the governor a member of the New Castle County bar to be appointed as a deputy judge. The deputy was to hold court during the absence, disability, or disqualification of the judge.2 The position of the deputy judge was upgraded in 1949 to that of an associate judge who could hold court separately or jointly with the family court judge.3 In 1951, the two judges were made co-equals and both were to be appointed to twelve year terms by the governor.4

The clerk of the court was appointed by the judges. In addition to caring for the court’s records, he received all fees and fines, administered oaths, entered judgments, took bail, and issued commitments, executions, processes, and warrants.5

A director, who was supervisor of probation and responsible for the general administration of the court offices, was also appointed by the judge. As part of his probation duties, he was required to provide a person on probation with a written statement of probation conditions and instruct him regarding them. Probation officers were also appointed by the judge and were given responsibility for aiding persons on probation to bring about improvement in their conduct and condition. They were required to keep full records of all probation work and had the power to serve and return writs or processes issued by the court.6

Family court’s main responsibility, as was the former juvenile court’s, involved proceedings concerning delinquent, neglected, or dependent children who resided in New Castle County. Other responsibilities included cases involving the enforcement of any law for the education, protection, care, or support of children; prosecution of persons within a family for crimes against family members, except felonies; desertion and non-support; maintenance of illegitimate children; liability of relatives for the support of a poor person or inmate of the State Welfare Home; charge and custody of minor children when parents separated but not divorced; abduction of children; aiding escapees or harboring inmates from Ferris School for Boys, Woods Haven School, or Kruse School; child labor law violations; unlawful placing or admitting of a resident dependant child without the written consent of the State Board of Welfare; sale of cigarettes, deadly weapons, and certain drugs to minors; offensive touching of female minors under sixteen years of age; and adultery.7

Family court was given concurrent jurisdiction to hear cases involving admissions and commitments to the custody of the Delaware Commission for the Feeble Minded.8 It also could hear and determine writs of habeas corpus or other proceedings for retaining possession or legal custody of any child.9 Judges of the Superior Court, Court of General Sessions, and Orphans’ Court could assign cases to be heard in Family Court. Family court had no jurisdiction in capital felony cases.10

Cases could be brought before the court by any reputable person who had knowledge of neglected, dependent, or delinquent children. They had to file a petition that presented the facts of the case, and these facts had to be verified by an affidavit. The case was then investigated by a probation officer or a welfare agency as directed by the judge. Summonses were issued to the minor and his parent or guardian to require their appearance in court. Pending determination of the case, the minor could have been released on his or his guardian’s recognizance; placed in the detention home; or placed with some person, institution, or agency responsible for the care of children. Minors arrested for breaking the law could not be taken before any court except family court unless a capital crime had been committed.11

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FAMILY COURT - NEW CASTLE COUNTY

Depending on the disposition of the case, a minor could be returned to his own home under the supervision of a probation officer; placed in a relative’s home; placed in a foster home by the State Board of Welfare; or committed to an institution that cared for children. Delinquent males were sent to Ferris School for Boys, and delinquent females were sent to Woods Haven School for Girls or Kruse School.12

Cases brought before family court were by information and without indictment by a grand jury. Hearings were in private, without trial by petit jury. Cases relating to children were tried at different times than cases of non-support, domestic relations, paternity, or criminal activity. Appeals were made to the resident associate judge or any judge of the New Castle County Superior Court.13 If sentences involved imprisonment exceeding one month or a fine more than one hundred dollars, the case was appealed to the Court of General Sessions.14

In 1955 the Court became a state level court and its name was changed to the Family Court of the State of Delaware (RG 1227).15

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FAMILY COURT - NEW CASTLE COUNTY

1 45 D.L., ch. 241.

2 Ibid.

3 47 D.L., ch. 306.

4 48 D.L., ch. 367.

5 45 D.L., ch. 241.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid. 47 D.L., ch. 306.

8 45 D.L., ch. 241.

9 46 D.L., ch. 213.

10 45 D.L., ch. 241.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid. 48 D.L., ch. 247.

14 45 D.L., ch. 241.

15 50 D.L., ch. 51.

rlg/February 3, 1988; February 10, 1988; January 4, 1989; August 22, 1989