Supervised visitation programs in Florida: a cause for optimism, a call for caution.
For years, most courts in Florida asked the parties to find a "neutral third party" to supervise the visitation--a daunting task for many families, given the commitment of time and energy required by this supervisor. Even if a friend or family member agrees to supervise visitation, as one report reveals, the volunteer may be vulnerable to the noncustodial parent's demands and threats, rendering the supervision ineffective.(3)
The rapid development of supervised visitation centers through grassroots efforts around the state has given judges and family lawyers new options in these and similarly difficult cases--cases involving allegations that a custodial parent is attempting to damage the relationship between the noncustodial parent and the child, cases in which the child refuses to visit the noncustodial parent, and cases in which there have been long interruptions in the contact between the child and the custodial parent. The Florida Legislature has recognized and responded to the need by creating new opportunities for the establishment of several more centers.(4) But lawyers should be aware of the complex issues and stringent policies involved in order to assist their clients with proper use of the centers. Such awareness is essential to maintaining the safety standards of these important resources. In addition, attorneys should realize that institutional supervised visitation is not a long-term solution in most family court cases, and that the programs should not be thought of as a substitute for addressing the underlying problems that resulted in the need for supervised visitation in the first place.
Existing Programs in Florida
The First Report of the Governor's Task Force on Domestic Violence(5) recommended that the State of Florida should provide funding to establish and certify model supervised visitation centers.(6) As this article goes to press, there are 15 collaborative programs that provide supervised visitation in Florida. Some of these programs, like the ones in the 10th and 17th judicial circuits, were initially designed to provide supervision for families in juvenile court cases, and were expanded to provide services for parents involved in civil family court cases. Other programs, like the ones in the 15th and Second circuits, were developed specifically for family court cases, and are now planning to expand their services into the dependency court arena. Several programs offer monitored exchange services which provide supervisors to oversee the transfer of a child from the custodial parent to the noncustodial parent at the start of the visitation period and the return of the child to the custodial parent at the end of the visitation period. The differences among the programs with respect to the amounts and sources of funding and the availability of services are great. Every existing center, however, accepts referrals of cases from the local court system. Each center is innovative in its own right--many were developed with input from local family lawyers. All report overwhelming support from the local judiciary, and each maximizes the resources of its particular community.
First Judicial Circuit
Opened in May 1996, the Family Visitation Center operates as a division of the Children's Home Society (CHS), Western Division, in Pensacola. With one paid staff member, the center operates Tuesdays through Saturdays, and trained volunteers provide supervision. Family court and juvenile dependency cases are accepted, and visitations are limited to 90 minutes. The court can order several visitations in one week. A local physician leases the office building where the visitations take place to the program for $1 per year. There are television monitors at the center, but no other security. The program received a grant from the Department of Children and Family Services, and private funding from the local Junior League for start-up costs. An advisory board of family lawyers, guardian ad litem representatives, ministers, and circuit court representatives provides advice and assistance to the program.
Second Judicial Circuit
The Family Visitation Program of Tallahassee opened in 1995, and serves families every other Saturday at a local elementary school. Supervision is provided by graduate students in the Florida State University School of Social Work, who receive course credit for their supervision services and attendance at training sessions. The Guardian Ad Litem Program of the circuit is an integral part of the center, working with the school of social work to develop policies and administer the program. The Leon County Sheriff's Department provides a uniformed deputy during all visitation at no cost to the program, and each family pays $10 to Leon County (the specific allocation of costs between parents is determined by the referring judge) for each visit. The Board of County Commissioners provides a small budget to pay supervisors during university holidays.
Fourth Judicial Circuit
The oldest and largest visitation center is in Jacksonville. The Family Visitation Center, Inc., operating at two locations, is a not-for-profit corporation with an annual budget of $233,000 and eight paid staff members.(7)
The majority of cases at the center involve foster care and dependency issues. The program began to accept family cases in 1995, and hired a part-time staff member to coordinate the caseload in January 1996. There is a sliding fee scale for family cases only. Volunteers (most from the Junior League) receive three hours of training and staff approximately 40 percent of the visitations. Security consists of audio-visual television monitors in each visitation room, hand-held metal detectors and breathalyzers, and panic buttons linked to the Jacksonville Police Department. One of the most inventive aspects of the program is that the two buildings used by the program are owned by a local church and a church-affiliated organization which lease the buildings to the program for $1 a year.
Fifth Judicial Circuit
The Family Visitation Center of Ocala opened in May 1994. The majority of families supervised by the program are from the foster care and dependency system. Some family cases are accepted when domestic violence or threats of parental kidnapping are alleged. Funding sources include the Junior League, United Way, CHS, and the Department of Children and Family Services. Security consists of an alarm system linked to the Ocala Police Department. Two paid staff members train volunteers from the police department, Junior League, local hospitals, and a community college.
Sixth Judicial Circuit
The Visitation Center opened in the fall of 1996, and has received Juvenile Welfare Board and Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence funding to begin accepting family court cases. Using a large area day care and playground, the center operates Fridays through Sundays, with a law enforcement officer present. A community advisory board, staffed with local judges, attorneys, and members of local child-welfare agencies, assisted the program in obtaining over $20,000 in grants.
The visits vary in length, monitored exchanges are offered, and the program hopes to offer parenting classes and other skills training on-site. There are seven paid staff members (one time, six part-time), and community member volunteers receive 30 hours of training before they supervise visits.
Seventh Judicial Circuit
The Junior League of Daytona Beach has created a task force to establish a visitation center in 1997. No opening date has been announced.
Ninth Judicial Circuit
The Family Support Center will open in June 1997, accepting only dependency cases initially. The center will be hiring a director and two part-time assistants, and student interns from the University of Central Florida will provide supervision. The program's security system is modeled after the Fourth Judicial Circuit's program, will be housed in a building owned by the city of Orlando, and will be open six days a week. The visitations will last 90 minutes, and an educational outreach library will be available for use by parents. The service will be free to families.
11th Judicial Circuit
Dade County has two programs.
1) The court administrator's Family Court Services (FCS) offers short-term supervised visitation in dissolution and modification cases only. The program is supervised by paid staff with a bailiff present, in the Courthouse Center Building, five days a week plus Saturdays and some evening hours. There is a $10 charge for the service; the program monitors exchanges; and separate support groups for children and parents are offered. FCS also offers crisis assistance, alienation intervention, social investigations, and co-parenting and marital reconciliation counseling.
2) The Family Visitation Center (FVC), operated by the Children's Home Society, opened in 1996. It accepts dependency cases only, but is seeking to expand services to include domestic violence cases. The United Way, Junior League, and several private foundations help fund the program, which operates at a CHS building on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturdays. The sessions are one hour, and the supervisors are all volunteers (called "monitors") trained by paid staff. Security consists of panic buttons. The Office of the Court Administrator of the 11th Judicial Circuit is actively collaborating within the community to expand the supervised visitation programs.
12th Judicial Circuit
The 12th Judicial Circuit also has two programs.
The Children and Families Supervised Visitation Program, founded in October 1995, is part of the not-for-profit Child Protection Center, Inc., of Sarasota. The initial funding for the program came from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The program accepts dependency and family court cases and monitors exchanges. The program operates differently from the site-based programs, sending trained volunteers to the places where a noncustodial parent can visit with his or her children. There are two program managers; one is a volunteer, and the other receives a part-time salary.
The program operates seven days a week and averages 10 visits each week. Since October 1995, the program has supervised over 175 visits encompassing about 320 hours of service. Program managers are attempting to find a more stable funding base, and the program has an advisory board to assist them in the creation of the program's policies.
The Supervised Visitation Program opened in July of 1996, accepting cases only in Manatee County. The program is housed in the offices of Family Resources, Inc., of Manatee County, and accepts dependency cases as a priority as a result of a grant by the Department of Children and Family Services, but will accept some court-ordered family cases if space permits. There are two paid staff members who supervise all visits, private security is present during visitations, and the center is open two nights per week plus Saturdays. The visits are 90 minutes in length. No monitored exchanges are offered.
13th Judicial Circuit
The Children's Advocacy Center in Tampa operates with grants from the Hillsborough County Children's Board and the Department of Children and Family Services. Hillsborough County provides the building and a case manager for the program, which operates six days a week. The center also offers monitored exchanges at a local church. The exchanges are supervised by trained volunteers and a law enforcement officer. All visitations are videotaped, and attorneys for the parents are given access to those tapes.
15th Judicial Circuit
The Governor's Task Force Against Domestic Violence circulated the Palm Beach County Family Connection Policies and Procedures as a "pilot program" for which other communities might pattern their centers. The program opened in 1994, as a collaborative effort of the Palm Beach Board of County Commissioners, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department, the Palm Beach County School Board, and the 15th Judicial Circuit court administrator. The program operates every weekend at two elementary schools, and is staffed by trained supervisors paid $15 per hour by the county. The program director and coordinator, who are paid by the county, provide the training for the supervisors, which generally consists of at least 15 hours of ongoing training. The court allocates the division of fees for the supervision, which is $15 per family.
Two of the more innovative aspects of the 15th Judicial Circuit's program are that it recruits volunteers through the Palm Beach County School System, as well as in the family law legal community, and that it has proven to the local sheriff's department to be more cost-effective to put a deputy on-site at each center than to respond to "domestic calls" from the parents disputing their visitation arrangements.(8)
17th Judicial Circuit
Broward County opened Our House in 1994 to families in dependency cases, and expanded in 1995 to provide supervision in family court cases. The Junior League of Greater Ft. Lauderdale received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Children and Family Services and the Junior League provided $25,000 in 1995 and 1996. The program plans to incorporate as a not-for-profit corporation in 1997. The Broward County Board of Commissioners offered a confiscated house for use as a center, and a local builder donated services and materials to improve the house. Other groups that participated in the collaborative effort were Broward County Children's Victim Services, which pays three staff members to run the program, and the Court Administrator's Office of the 17th Judicial Circuit.
Supervision is provided by Junior League volunteers who are trained by the professional staff of the Broward County Children's Victim Services on issues similar to the topics taught in the 15th Circuit. There is no charge for the supervision, which is available Tuesdays through Saturday. Panic buttons are linked to an alarm system, and unarmed private security personnel is present for the evening visitations. Each court-ordered referral expires after 60 days, but extensions can be granted if space is available. The program supervised approximately 205 family court visitations in the past year. Parents are able to visit for a period of 90 minutes up to twice a week.
20th Judicial Circuit
There are two visitation programs in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
The Family Connection Center, Inc. (FCC), opened in October 1996, with a Department of Children and Family Services grant that enables it to emphasize dependency cases while accepting some family court cases. The center operates two sites, a local church and at the local extension office of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences of the University of Florida (IFAS). The center supervises visitations seven days a week and operates on a sliding fee scale. Student interns from the University of South Florida assist the one paid staff member.
Opened in 1995, The Family Visitation Center (FVS) of Southwest Florida supervises one family at a time in dependency cases and family cases. This is the only program that accepts self-referred family court cases without a court order. Families pay on a sliding fee scale (from $2 to $16 per hour) and can arrange for visitations to last from one to six hours at a time. Hands-on parent education and monitored exchanges are offered. The center is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. in a house owned by the Children's Home Society. All visitation is supervised by paid CHS staff supervisors, and staff assesses the need for security, which is billed to the families if off-duty law enforcement is necessary for safety. The program also provides limited off-site supervision.
The 1996 Florida Legislature passed CS/HB 347, creating a Family Visitation Network and a Family Visitation Task Force (Fla. Laws 96-402). It also allows the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences of the University of Florida (IFAS) to establish new supervised visitation centers.
The legislation creates the Florida Visitation Network, which has a host of responsibilities, including compiling a directory of state-supervised visitation programs, organizing workshops and conferences, and compiling data on the use of supervised visitation. Other responsibilities of the network, which is based in the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University, include: serving as a clearinghouse on resources and research of supervised visitation programs, providing technical assistance and other support services to existing and emerging supervised visitation programs, publishing a newsletter for supervised visitation programs, and authorizing the application for grants and private contributions. Because of the disparity of services offered throughout the state, these will be important tasks, essential to the development of guidelines and policies. There is no mandate for any type of accreditation for these centers, so judges who refer families should assess the safety policies of the program before signing the referrals.
A Florida Family Visitation Task Force is also legislatively mandated, specifying that voluntary membership will be offered to the following: one representative from each established supervised visitation program; one representative from the Department of Children and Family Services; one family court judge; one representative of the Guardian Ad Litem Program; two representatives of law enforcement; one representative of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence; and one representative of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar. The task force is directed to act as the governing body of the Supervised Visitation Network for a period of one year and has the responsibility of implementing the directory and creating bylaws and an evaluation instrument. The task force is required to prepare a report with recommendations concerning the individual visitation programs and the network.
The legislation permits IFAS to establish visitation programs in communities throughout the state who can contribute matching funds of $15,000. The law leaves unclear whether this funding is a payment to IFAS for services or will be used to pay rent, staff, etc. Finally, the Florida Family Visitation Task Force is required to act as the board of advisors for the IFAS projects.
Potential Impact of Legislation
The new statute makes clear that the legislature approves of the use of visitation centers and wants to encourage the trend toward developing new centers around the state. The statute also encourages community participation, a goal long espoused as a necessary step toward ending family violence.(9)
Unfortunately, the appropriations attached to the legislation are insufficient to allow the Task Force, Network, and Clearinghouse to accomplish the ambitious goals the legislature set out for them.(10) On the other hand, IFAS agents have expertise and training in community development, and they may be valuable resources in the building of community liaison groups. Also, IFAS agents work in every county in Florida, making them easily accessible to the rural counties which so often lack the resources of their urban neighbors. The "match" by IFAS, therefore, will largely be through in-kind services, not funding dollars. Rural counties may find it difficult to fund an IFAS match of $15,000 as required by the statute to start new programs.
The Family Connection in the 20th Judicial Circuit uses a local IFAS office and its equipment for their visitation program, and The Family Visitation Center of the Fourth Circuit plans to use a parenting activity (planting gardens) coordinated by IFAS at the center this spring. In Dade County, IFAS staff are discussing plans for a visitation program in Homestead.(11)
In addition, the task force will have to provide guidance to IFAS to provide details of how to implement the legislation to the groups interested in forming new programs. For example, the legislation does not specify how long the pilot programs will operate, and the communities themselves will have to administer, finance, and staff the program, although IFAS can be helpful in recruiting volunteers and providing training for them.
The task force met for the first time in August 1996, met in January 1997 at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence's Annual Conference, and plans to meet again at the International Supervised Visitation Conference in West Palm Beach in May. The first publication concerning visitation in Florida, The Networker, was published by the Clearinghouse at Florida State University in November 1996.
The International Network
The Florida Family Visitation Network should not be confused with the similarly named international Supervised Visitation Network (SVN), which has existed since 1992. Currently 33 states, six provinces of Canada, and several cities in Australia and New Zealand have programs that are SVN members. Several, but not all, of the visitation programs in Florida are already members of this network. In May 1996, the international membership of the Supervised Visitation Network approved a new Florida Chapter of SVN.
The Supervised Visitation Network includes extensive standards and guidelines which any SVN member "should agree to accept and follow in providing supervised visitation services."(12) These standards include policies describing security practices, guidelines for minimum training of supervisors,(13) and special preparation in cases of family violence.(14)
The annual Supervised Visitation Conference will be held in Palm Beach Gardens, May 17-20, 1997. The directors of the 15th Judicial Circuit's visitation program are coordinating the conference, which includes sessions on developing new programs and clinical issues involved in supervised visitation.
Advice for Practitioners
Because many of these centers are new and developing, family lawyers should assist their clients by advising them as to the proper use of the program well in advance of the first visitation, even though most centers have their own "intake" or "orientation" sessions. Attorneys should familiarize themselves with the policies of the programs in their areas before they request or stipulate to the use of a center. These programs are not for everyone: Some parents may strenuously object to the atmosphere, no matter how comfortable and "child-friendly" the program strives to be. One noncustodial parent abruptly left an established program, calling it "a jail with carpet" because of its strict requirements. Most program staff can describe instances in which parents complained--to different degrees--about the program's policies. Programs are justified in maintaining their right to refuse referrals, if they believe that supervision of the family is too dangerous or if the case involves allegations that the staff is not thoroughly trained to address.
Failure to advise a client of the program guidelines may result in unanticipated problems. Outbursts or inappropriate behavior by a parent will likely be recorded in the observational notes completed at most of the program centers in Florida. Observational notes are forms that are completed by the supervisors during (and immediately after) each individual visitation. These forms include specific comments as to the demeanor and interaction of the individuals and families. Attorneys should determine how extensive and accessible these important observational forms (or videotapes) are, and whether the program distributes them routinely (after each visit) or only after verbal or written request or by subpoena.
In addition, lawyers and judges should not assume that a report of a noncustodial parent's good conduct at the visitation site is a signal that the original problems that resulted in a referral for supervision have been adequately addressed. These sessions do not offer visitation center staff a view of parents outside of a highly structured, short-term observation.
Under the international Supervised Visitation Network guidelines, visitation programs should not perform evaluations or make recommendations to the referring court.(15) In order to preserve the objectivity of the visitation setting, supervision and evaluations should be performed by different people. However, this is an area of great controversy among network providers nationwide, and attorneys should apprise themselves of their local programs' practices to determine the policies regarding recommendations. At this writing, the vast majority of supervisors assisting in programs in Florida do not have the credentials to conduct parenting assessments, and the supervised visitation setting is not structured for evaluations. The Family Visitation Task Force should deal with the issue of observation notes and evaluations, and adopt a standard policy.
Times for parents' arrival and departure to and from the program is also important, especially in cases involving domestic violence. The SVN Standards and Guidelines call for procedures of arrival and departure of clients so that contact between them does not occur without the explicit agreement of the parties and the provider, even if an injunction against domestic violence has not been entered by the court. Attorneys should advise their clients to strictly adhere to arrival and departure times.
Because of the obvious restrictions that institutional supervised visitation places on developing a parent-child bond, and because the resource of supervised visitation is finite, supervised visitation programs do not offer long-term solutions to visitation problems in most family cases. Under optimum conditions, the courts should be seeking to address the underlying problems in the family to plan toward facilitating less restrictive access between parents and children. This means that batterers' intervention programs, parenting classes, substance abuse evaluation, counseling, and treatment, and professional psychological and parenting evaluations should begin immediately after the restrictive visitation is ordered.(16)
There are many communities in Florida that do not yet have a supervised visitation program, and most of the existing programs are looking for ways to expand their services to other counties in the same circuit. This is especially true in rural areas where the need is great and largely unaddressed. Family lawyers can be an important resource to assist court administrators and agencies in developing new centers. Existing centers have welcomed input from the local bar and offer other communities examples of ways to start new programs. The use of interlocal agreements, based on F.S. [sections] 163.01 (1969), known as the Florida Interlocal Cooperation Act of 1969, can be helpful in combining the resources of local agencies to establish new visitation programs.(17) The individual program directors and the judiciary of the circuits that currently have programs can also be important resources to groups entrusted in forming community coalitions.
Supervised visitation can be a great help for families in crisis and a useful tool for the courts if used properly. Lawyers and judges will play an important role in the effective use of this resource, and can work within their communities to expand vital existing services.(18)
(1) See, e.g., Fredrica Lehrman, Factoring Domestic Violence into Custody Cases, 32 TRIAL 34 (Feb. 1996).
(2) Carla Garrity and Mitchell Baris, Custody and Visitation: Is It Safe?, 17 FAM. ADV. 40 (Winter 1995).
(3) REPORT ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A COMMITMENT To ACTION 24 (Harshbarger & Winsten, eds. 1993).
(4) Fla. Laws 96-402.
(5) Lawton Chiles, Governor, Jan. 1, 1994, Ch. 1, at 7.
(6) There have been a myriad of articles published on the effects of domestic violence on children. This article does not purport to offer any more insight into the dynamics of family violence. For information on children and family violence, see the extensive bibliography compiled by the Governor's Task Force on Domestic Violence, Jan. 31, 1994. See also, e.g., Daniella Levine, Children in Violent Homes: Effects and Responses, 68 FLA. B.J. 62 (Oct. 1994), and ON CHILDREN AND THE LAW: THE IMPACT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ON CHILDREN, A REPORT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION (1994).
(7) Approximately one-third of the program's budget is provided by the Department of Children and Family Services District IV. One-fifth of the budget is provided by a combination for city funds from the Jacksonville Children's Commission and the Junior League of Jacksonville. The remainder of the budget comes from private donations and grants.
(8) The Family Connection, P.O. Box 1989, West Palm Beach 33402.
(9) See, e.g., J. Osofsky, Children Who Witness Domestic Violence: The Invisible Victims, 9 SOCIAL POLICY REP. 11 (Society for Research in Child Development, 1995): "In order to prevent and alleviate the effects of witnessing domestic violence on children, it is recommended that we band together ... to foster prevention and intervention approaches that build on family and community. Id. at 11. See also Susan Schechter & Jeffrey L. Edleson, In the Best Interest of Women and Children: A Call for Collaboration Between Child Welfare and Domestic Violence Constituencies, THE PREVENTION REP. 6 (The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice, spring 1995) "as more and more communities call for coordinated interventions to stop family violence, agencies will be required to work together .... "
(10) Only $10,000, plus $2,000 from each new program established by IFAS will fund the Florida Family Visitation Network and Task Force projects. Appropriations Act No. 2047. In addition, there is no funding made available to help existing programs solidify their financial base and continue their services.
(11) SUPERVISED VISITATION NETWORKER, V01. 1, No. 1 (fall 1996)
(12) Supervised Visitation Network, STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES FOR SUPERVISED VISITATION PRACTICE [sections] 1.5, 1996.
(11) Section 11.2 states that a visit supervisor shall complete a minimum of 10 and preferably at least 15 hours of training covering at least 12 specific topics, including ethical principles, separation issues in supervised visitation, intervention to prevent physical or emotional harm, and substance abuse education and detection.
(14) Id. [sections] 15.2.
(15) STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES FOR SUPERVISED VISITATION NETWORK PRACTICE [sections] 5.29 (b).
(16) Several existing programs offer on-site parenting classes. See chart.
(17) For an example of an interlocal agreement, see policies of the Family Connection, 15th Judicial Circuit.
(18) First Judicial Circuit, Family Visitation Center, Ernie Sanchez, 904/470-4786, c/o Children's Home Society, P.O. Box 19136, Pensacola 32523. Second Judicial Circuit, Family Visitation Program of Tallahassee, Karen Oehme, GAL, 904/488-7612 or Dr. Sharon Maxwell, FSU, 904/644-9748, c/o Guardian Ad Litem Program, 301 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32301. Fourth Judicial Circuit, The Family Visitation Center, Inc., Liz Williams, 904/389-7800, 4714 Shelby Ave., Jacksonville 32210 or 133 W. 9th St., Jacksonville 32209. Fifth Judicial Circuit, Family Visitation Center, Alicia Boynton, 352/622-9408, 216 N.E. Sanchez Ave., Ocala 34470. Sixth Judicial Circuit, Chris Wiszowaty, 813/897-9204, P.O. Box 414, St. Petersburg 33731. Ninth Judicial Circuit, The Family Support Center, Kimber Smith, 407/522-6380 and 407/849-0333 (Laura Edson), 125 N. Lucerne Cr., E., Orlando 32801. Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Family Court Services, Holly Berline, 407/372-7936, 135 NW 1st Ave., 15th Floor, Miami 33128. CHS Family Visitation Center, Amparo Carrera, 305/838-3346, 800 N.W. 15th St., Miami 33129, and Sharon Abrams, 305/375-5278, Administrative Office of the Courts, Dade County Courthouse, 73 W. Flagler St., Miami 33130. Twelfth Judicial Circuit, The Children and Families Supervised Visitation Program, Dorothy Prince, 941/365-1277, 1750 17th St., Sarasota 34234. The Supervised Visitation Program, 941/741-3-575, 361 6th Ave., W., Bradenton 34205. Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Children's Advocacy Center, 813/272-7179, 700 E. Twiggs Ave., Ste. 102, Tampa 33602. Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, The Family Connection Program, Sherri Kass and Barbara Pope, 407/355-2157, County Courthouse Suite 3.100, P.O. Box 1989, West Palm Beach 33402. Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Ernie Riland, 954/831-7752, Broward County Courthouse, Rm. 565, 201 S.W. 6th St., Ft. Lauderdale 33301. (Our House, Sharon Dougherty, director, 408 N.E. 4th St., Ft. Lauderdale 33301.) Twentieth Judicial Circuit, The Family Connection, Inc., Gail Varley, 941/338-3248, 3406 Palm Beach Blvd., Ft. Myers 33916; The Family Visitation Center of Southwest Florida, Beth Santini, 941/334-2008, c/o 1524 Person St., Ft. Myers 33901.
Karen Oehmen received her J.D. from Florida State University with high honors in 1987. She developed the family law section of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian Ad Litem Program, and continues to supervise the growing family section. She is co-chair of the Family Visitation Program of Tallahassee.
This column is submitted on behalf of the Family Law Section, Martin L. Haines III, chair, and Melinda Gamot and John S. Morse, editors.