PROBATE COURT – PART 1: What Is It?
The Probate Court system is a state law derivative of the judicial system designed to be user friendly for the non-attorney because of the broad range of sensitive matters it handles including, but not limited to children custody, child neglect, termination of parental rights and re-unification of parents to children, adoption; conservatorships and guardianships of minors, elders, persons (of any age) with mental illness and/or intellectual disabilities; decedent’s estates and name changes. Until recently, most towns had their own Probate Court in their local Town Hall. Due to budget cuts, the Probate Court System was forced to consolidate many of the smaller towns courts into a single court still located in a one of the consolidated Towns’ Town Hall. At some point, they may even be consolidated into the regular Judiciary branch which has been rumored for many years but has not gained any traction yet.
In addition, to meet the growing needs of our larger communities for children and services the court provides, there are six Regional Children’s Probate Courts that deal specifically with those limited matters allowing the court to allocate more time and resources, including specialized personnel, to address these difficult issues.
“The court unites personnel from surrounding Probate Courts and local and state agencies to ensure that children and their families can thrive in a secure, stable home environment. Highly trained staff that includes professionals in child development and family relations, called Probate Court officers, hold family conferences to develop the best care plans for the child and provide support and long-term monitoring.” (Quoted from the Probate Court website: www.ctprobate.gov/Pages/ChildrensMatters.aspx
Unlike the regular courts, a Probate Judge is elected rather than appointed and, once elected must go through extensive and ongoing training. To be a Probate Judge, one is now required to be an attorney admitted to the Connecticut Bar but this is a recent development. Prior to January, 2011 a Probate Judge was not required to be an attorney and if a non-attorney was elected prior to January 2011, he/she can continue to be a Probate Judge for as long as there is no break in his/her service. Subsequent articles, will address the specific role of the Probate Court in the different areas of Practice and the benefits to the people.