Helen (Chrissy) Webster, Coordinator
Family Services Program
The following services and programs are available for domestic cases at the Circuit Court for Somerset County and interpreters upon request:
- Co-Parenting Classes
- Custody/Visitation Mediation
- Property/Child Support/Alimony Mediation
- Domestic Violence Intervention
- Child Custody Investigation/Home Study
- Court Appointed Attorney for Minor Child/ren
- Substance Abuse Evaluation/ Hair Follicle Testing/ Treatment
- Supervised Visitation/Monitored Exchange - "Lower Shore Family Center"
- Self Help Family Law Clinic
- Child Advocacy Center
- Juvenile Programs – Truancy Reduction Program
- Domestic Legal Services for ECI Inmates
Somerset County Parenting Classes
6 Hour Court - approved educational classes for parents experiencing divorce and/or separation.
Topics Will Include:
- Understanding yourself and your child.
- Understanding beliefs and feelings.
- Encouraging your child and yourself to communicate.
- Listening and talking to your child.
- Helping children cooperate.
- Discipline that makes sense.
- Choosing your approach to discipline.
Contact Helen (Chrissy) Webster, (410) 621-7582, for scheduling and payment arrangements.
A certificate will be issued to you after successfully completing the two classes.
What is Custody/Visitation Mediation?
Parents are in the best position to make fair decisions for their children regarding custody and/or visitation. It is a primary goal of the Maryland Judiciary to encourage families to resolve domestic disputes without court intervention. A court-approved mediator with 40 hours of basic training, 20 hours of domestic training and required continued education, will help to facilitate an agreement between the parties.
For those parents who are separating, we recognize that this is a stressful time for all persons involved. As you know, your role and responsibilities as parents continue regardless of your marital relationship. For those parents who have never been married, for those who are seeking a modification in their ongoing parenting plan or those who are otherwise struggling with a dispute over parenting or related issues, this can be a stressful time as well. In this time of stress, as parents or those responsible for a child or children, you need to establish workable and effective plans for meeting the needs of your child(ren).
We believe that you know and understand the needs of your child(ren) better than anyone else, and judges, magistrates and court staff cannot deal with these needs as well as parents. What we can do, however, is assist you in establishing arrangements that will help your child(ren) and keep both of you involved in the life of your child(ren).
The decisions you make will be among the most important that you, as a parent, will ever make. The future of your child(ren) will be determined by your wise, thoughtful, loving and deliberate involvement in this service. We urge you to think about the Mediation Service in this way, put the interests of your child(ren) first and commit yourselves to resolving your personal disagreements.
At the scheduling conference before the Magistrate of Domestic Relations, you will choose dates reasonably convenient with your schedule for this mediation. The mediator will be chosen by the Court. Two sessions are suggested but if the parties reach an agreement, one session may be sufficient. The costs of mediation are to be prorated between the parties. Full payment shall be made to the mediator at the beginning of the session unless other payment arrangement have been made with the Family Services Coordinator, (410) 621-7582.
Property/Child Support/Alimony Mediation
The who, what and where of Property/Child Support Mediation.
The mediator is NOT a judge, but helps the parties decide on their own how to resolve their differences. There is a limit to how many mediation sessions may be ordered by the court. For example, a judge may only order two sessions, and then later order two more sessions if deemed necessary. It is important for the mediators to have financial statements from both parties before the sessions are held. The mediator is appointed by the court from a qualified list of court approved mediators. There is more success when each party has attended co-parenting classes prior to mediation.
Mediation is an alternative method of dispute resolution available to parties experiencing separation or divorce. The primary method of dispute resolution has been litigation, in which the separating or divorcing parties are adversaries and a judge or magistrate makes the decisions for the parties. Mediation differs - because the parties work together to decide what is best for them and their financial situation. The topic is restricted to property, alimony and child support issues only.
The process is conducted in the mediator’s office. When an agreement is reached, the mediator must prepare a written draft of the agreement and send copies of the agreement to the parties and their attorneys. The agreement may be approved or modified by the parties. The mediator then submits the agreement to the court for approval and entry as an order. At that time, the agreement may be incorporated into the divorce decree. When an agreement has not been reached, the case will return to the court for a decision by the magistrate or judge. The mediator is forbidden to reveal to the judge anything the parties discussed during the mediation sessions and may not be called as a witness.
Mediation costs are usually based on an hourly rate or a flat fee as determined in the court order. Although there is a cost for mediation, it is possible that the overall cost of the separation or divorce will be less expensive if pursued through mediation rather than litigation.
The court may not order mediation in any case where there is a genuine threat of physical or sexual abuse of one of the parties or the parties’ children.
Domestic Violence Intervention
The following resources are referred by the Family Services Coordinator for domestic violence cases:
Life Crisis Center, Inc.
P.O. Box 387
Salisbury, MD 21803
Fax: (410) 548-9496
- Abby Marsh, Esq., Executive Director
- Karen Hughes, Domestic Violence Therapist
Shelter, food, anger management classes, counseling and support are offered. If the Life Crisis Center is contacted before the Petitioner goes to court, a counselor will accompany the client to complete forms in the Clerk’s office and offer support at the Ex Parte hearing. If an Ex Parte Order is granted, the petitioner is referred to Family Services. The coordinator offers options to consider for the Protective Order hearing. A list of the Somerset County Bar Association, Self Help Legal Program or counseling.
Self Help Legal Program is offered to the petitioner after the Temporary Protective Order hearing. An attorney is available every Friday at the Somerset County Circuit Courthouse Annex in Princess Anne, Maryland, from 9:00 a.m. to Noon. The family services coordinator will help you with the in-take process. Please know the correct physical address and/or mailing address of the respondent when filing.
The judge or magistrate will refer domestic violence cases to Family Services to explain terms discussed in Court during the temporary hearing and offer services for the Protective Order hearing. A list of Somerset County Bar Association members is offered when needed.
Contact: Helen (Chrissy) Webster, Family Services Coordinator at (410) 621-7582.
Child Custody Investigation/Home Study
Please let me help clarify your questions regarding the above topic:
Why has an investigation been ordered?
The court needs the ability to identify and to assist the family effectively regarding allegations of abuse and neglect. For example, the issues could include substance or alcohol abuse, physical abuse, mental health issues or poor living conditions for the child(ren).
When is an investigation ordered?
Scheduling Conference for:
- Absolute/Limited divorce.
- Modification of custody.
- Modification of visitation.
- Cases involving what is in the best interest of the child(ren.
Who conducts the home study?
Family Services for Somerset County Circuit Court maintains a list of providers.
Phone: (410) 677-4300
Fee: Will be determined according to certain criteria.
What to expect during the home study process:
- Upon payment of the home study fee, the case will be assigned to a social worker who will contact each party by phone or letter.
- The social worker will make home visits and interview occupants of the residence.
- The social worker will contact references, you will be asked to provide other professionals as resources, for example, teachers, doctors and day care providers. A criminal background check will be obtained.
- The social worker will be looking into areas such as your abilities as a parent to meet the needs of the children concerned, your living arrangements, and ability to financially support your family.
- The Social Worker will submit a written report to be filed with the Court prior to the hearing on the merits.
Court Appointed Attorney for Minor Child(ren)
- Child's privilege attorney
- Child's advocate attorney
- Child's best interest attorney
Primary Focus-Determine Custody of Children
A court-appointed attorney conducts an investigation with the parties, their children and those individuals having information that may be helpful to the court in making a custody determination. The attorney may make a determination and recommendation after pinpointing what is in the best interest of the child and whose responsibility is primarily to the court.
The fee is determined by the Court. The parties send the payment to the Clerk of the Court and it is placed in the Registry of the Court until a further Order of Court is filed to pay the appointed attorney’s fees.
The following issues related to the child(ren) are addressed:
- Information about child(ren).
- School background.
- Day care.
- Social activities.
- Religious training.
- Daily living patterns.
- Physical and mental health.
- Personality and temperament.
- Child’s discipline and chores.
- Mother and father’s activities with child(ren).
- Child’s relationship with parents.
- Child’s attitude with parents.
- Child’s attitude toward parent’s extended relationships.
- Other relevant facts, including educational and medical records.
The attorney appointed for the minor child may not speak to the parties without the permission of their respective attorneys and the attorneys for the parties may not communicate without the child(ren)'s permission of the Attorney representing the child.
The attorney may participate in any hearing regarding custody, visitation and child support matters. The Best Interest Attorney may also issue subpoenas and call witnesses when it is deemed appropriate and the Attorney believes it reflects the best interest of the child(ren).
Cost: $145 per hour not to exceed $1,450 unless further order of the Court.
Substance Abuse Evaluation
If you have been court ordered to have a substance abuse evaluation:
Please let this information answer your questions.
Substance abuse services derive from the court’s interest in protecting children. When substance abuse becomes an acknowledged problem, the court determines that a trained clinical drug counselor evaluates you, the litigant, for drug abuse and drug dependence in circumstances where a judge or magistrate is concerned about a parent’s drug use. In addition to performing the evaluation and reporting to the court, the substance abuse counselor refers the family members to treatment and monitors compliance with the court order.
Where do I go?
Somerset County Circuit Court refers clients who have been court ordered for substance abuse evaluation to the following providers:
J. David Collins & Associates, LLC
Princess Anne Office
Peninsula Addiction Services
Eastern Shore Psychological Services
Princess Anne Office
Will They Take my Child(ren) Away From Me?
No one but the judge or magistrate can make that ruling. The substance abuse evaluation is designed to focus a coordinated and comprehensive effort to attack substance abuse and addiction. The evaluation and recommendation report are filed with the court regarding your treatment plan. Your attendance and random urine screening are taken into consideration.
Can I Obtain Substance/Alcohol Abuse Counseling When Self-Referred?
Yes, contact a provider listed above.
Supervised Visitation/Monitored Exchange/Therapeutic Family Counseling
If I am ordered by the court to have supervised visitation or monitored exchange - where do I go?
Lower Shore Family Center
The center offers a safe and neutral location for divorced or separated non-custodial parents living in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties to exchange or visit their children and to rebuild a healthy parent-child relationship. The purpose is to supervise and objectively report back to the referring judge.
Lower Shore Family Center
120 S. Boulevard
Salisbury, MD 21804
Hours of Operation
- Tuesday 6:00 p.m. – monitored exchange
- Wednesday 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. - supervised visitation/ monitored exchange
- Friday 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m..- supervised visitation/ monitored exchange
- Saturday 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. - supervised visitation
- Sunday 1 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - supervised visitation
- Sunday 5 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. - monitored exchange
Holidays may change the schedule.
Order of the Court for the tri-county area, Department of Social Services, and District Court.
Master level licensed professional to serve as Program Director and visitation coordinator, Level 1 licensed professional staff person and a law enforcement professional (off duty ) - all paid positions. Background checks and additional training will be conducted for all staff.
Insurance and other liability issues (professional liability) will be covered under Life Crisis, Inc.
Family Services for the Circuit Courts of Somerset, Wicomico & Worcester Counties, Department of Social Services, Life Crisis Center, Inc., Local Management Boards of the tri-county area, and grants.
- Supervised Visitation - $20.00 per hour, paid by the visiting parent.
- Monitored Exchange - $10.00 per exchange, paid by the visiting parent.
- Same Day Exchange (no overnight) - $5.00 per exchange, paid by the visiting parent.
- Payment is due when the child is picked up.
- Procedures and rules for the family should initially be strict, it is easier to lessen restrictions then increase.
- In-take assessment process is completed before the services are utilized; driver’s license number, employment, medical problems, photos, family history and release form are signed should an agency need information (ex. D.S.S., Court, attorney).
- Separate space is needed for a waiting parent and a visiting parent but time can separate if space is limited.
- The following procedure is used for Monitored Exchange:
- Non-custodial parent arrives 15 minutes early
- Custodial parent brings children at designated time
- Both parents sign in at different times and areas
- Custodial parent will give any necessary information the non-custodial parent should know regarding medications, school, etc.
- Transport down the hall to non-custodial parent, custodial parent can leave
15 minutes must lapse before the non-custodial parent can leave with the child/ren
- The process is reversed for pick-up
- Observations are recorded
- The following procedure is used for Supervised Visitation:
- Non-custodial parent arrives 15 minutes early and is assigned to a room for the visit
- Custodial parent brings child/ren at designated time
- Both parents sign in at different times and areas
- Children and staff member go to the assigned room to visit with non-custodial parent for designated time
- Staff member facilitates activities for the first half of the session and “relaxed” time for the last half of the visit
- Observations are recorded
- If any member of the staff suspects drug and/or alcohol use prior to the visit or exchange, the visit will be canceled and notification will be sent to the referring agency. No inappropriate behavior will be tolerated. No further visits will be arranged once visitation has been terminated.
- A maximum of 2 hours per visit, unless, otherwise specified by the Program Director. If at any time a Center staff member determines the visit should be stopped, he/she is empowered by the Courts to do so.
- The Managing Director will be responsible for the staff, scheduling, reporting and general programmatic issues.
- There will be NO exchange of any material that has not been approved by the Center. For example, no money, candy or notes will be exchanged. Presents are allowed on specific gift giving days only. These gifts must be unwrapped and approved by the Center prior to your visit. Gifts will leave the Center with Child.
- A staff member will be present at all times and will accompany the child to the bathroom if needed.
- Court cases may not be discussed at the visit with the child/ren or any staff member.
- Promises or talk of future visits will not be allowed.
- No smoking is allowed in the library or the Visitation Center. No one will be permitted to leave the building to smoke once the supervised visitation is taking place.
- It will be the responsibility of the parties to contact the Program Director to find out if the Center is closed due to weather. A doctor’s excuse is expected when a visit does not take place.
- There will be NO provoking, fighting with, swearing at, or physically disciplining the child/ren. If this behavior occurs, the visit will end and the offending person will be asked to leave.
- If required for continuity of care, a release of information form will be available.
- Contact Program Director of LSFC, at Life Crisis, Inc. - 410-749-0771 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday only. For cancellations only, call 410-749-HELP(4357) hotline.
- The Center WILL NOT make exceptions to the rules and regulations.
- Interpreters for the hearing impaired will be arranged by the referring agency.
- Please consider your child’s feeding schedule before the visit occurs.
- All staff members of the program can submit a written evaluation in lieu of a court appearance.
Contact for More Details
- Helen (Chrissy) Webster, Family Services Coordinator for Somerset County (410) 621-7582
Self Help Legal Program
The weekly program provides support and assistance to self-represented litigants with legal advice when completing forms and the filing process. Many litigants who decide to represent themselves will benefit from knowledge of the courtroom procedures and best practices at the time of the merits hearing. The attorney will see a litigant on a first come, first serve basis, as many times as required to prepare them for trial. No phone contact with the attorney is permitted.
What is the Definition of "Litigants"?
Black’s Law Dictionary gives the following definition:"To settle a dispute or seek relief in a court of law; the act of carrying on a suit in a law court; to prosecute or defend by pleading, evidence, and debate in a court."
Each Friday of the Month: 9:00 a.m. - Noon.
Self Help Legal Program
Somerset County Circuit Court Annex
11774 Somerset Avenue
Princess Anne, MD 21853
Accessible entrance for individuals with disabilities.
A lawyer will be available to eligible clients for free consultation on how to represent yourself and complete forms for:
- Domestic violence
- Name Change
- Modification of child support
- Trial preparation
Child Advocacy Center
The Center provides a child friendly environment in which to interview victims of severe child abuse and sexual abuse. The Advocacy Center was formed through the collaborative efforts of county agencies to minimize the child victim's trauma, strengthen cases for prosecution and provide support to the child's non-offending family members. Any child maltreatment should be reported to the local Department of Social Services, (410) 677-4300.
Juvenile Programs - Truancy Reduction Program
Problem solving courts are a collaboration between the Maryland Judiciary, DJS, State's Attorney's Office, the Office of the Public Defender, schools, substance abuse and mental health providers and FSP.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by all members of the Operational Team for a partnership and commitment to serve the client and family with wrap-around services.
- Kendall Timmons, Coordinator - (410) 548-7107
Domestic Legal Services for ECI Inmates
Alternative Directions, Inc. in Baltimore, MD has an updated list of inmates who have filed domestic cases with the court in Somerset County and those case that may need additional legal advice to expedite the case through the system. Alternative Directions, Inc. visits Eastern Correctional Institution one time per month to assist with forms and filing, service and the summons process. Serving the Writ of Summons continues to be an issue due to the fact that the Defendant seldom resides on the Lower Eastern Shore and providing a witness to corroborate the grounds at the hearing on merits.