By Judge Elaine M. Moriarty
Over 250,000 people appear in the Probate and Family Court every year. It is often the only involvement many residents of Massachusetts will have with the court system, with decisions having an immediate and direct impact on people’s daily lives. It is the court where people come in order to divorce, to protect disabled or incapacitated loved ones, to probate the estate of loved ones who have died, and to adopt children. It is also the court where the most vulnerable come to receive protection from domestic violence, to obtain access to their children, and to obtain financial support to meet basic living expenses. Most come without the benefit of an attorney and often with limited or no English language proficiency.
I have been a Probate and Family Court Judge for twenty-two years. I began my career with the court as an Assistant Register in 1976, before entering private law practice. The judges of yesteryear never would recognize our system as it exists today, and in fact I have witnessed dramatic changes in it during my own tenure as a judge. While Probate and Family Court jurisdiction has expanded, the most significant change is the number of people who now represent themselves.
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