Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why won’t Judge Felts, Magistrate Kitch, or Magistrate Trevino discuss my case with me?
Answer: Judicial officers must remain independent, impartial, and unbiased to both sides to a dispute throughout all phases of the case. Judicial officers cannot take sides with any one party to a dispute or act as the lawyer for either party. The Court is not a legal services office. If a judicial officer or the court staff assists either party with the preparation and presentation of his or her case, then the judicial officer has become biased and partial, and has compromised the integrity of the Court.
Furthermore, communications with a party must be in the presence of all other opposing parties. There cannot be private, one-sided conversations with a judicial officer. This is known as the prohibition against ex parte communications.
Finally, a judicial officer must remain independent from all influence. Suggestions that the judicial officer will not get your vote, or that you will publicly criticize the judicial officer, or that you will write a letter to the editor, or that you will report the judicial officer to the authorities will not influence the judicial officer’s decision, nor will it open the lines of communication to the judicial officer.
The Canons of Judicial Conduct govern each of these topics concerning judicial independence, impartiality, and communications concerning a case. Please refer to Canon 1(A), Canon 2(B), Canon 3(B)(2), Canon 3(B)(5), and Canon 3(B)(8).
Question: What is the Allen Circuit Court Family Law Pro Se Arbitration Project? What is arbitration?
Answer: Family Law arbitration is permitted under Indiana Code 34-57-5 and also under Indiana Code 33-38-1. In an arbitration proceeding, the rules for trials are relaxed, and the parties present their cases in a less formal way. The Arbitrators have more flexibility than Judges do in asking questions and helping to move the cases along. This allows parties who represent themselves to have a more satisfying, less frustrating experience when they come to Court for their family law disagreements.
The Arbitrators must follow the Indiana family laws for child custody, parenting time, child support, property division, etc. in making their decisions. Just like a Judge, after the arbitration, the Arbitrator makes written findings and conclusions, including the ruling on the case. The Arbitrator submits those findings and conclusions to the Court, and the Court then enters the judgment filed by the Arbitrator. The parties then have the right to appeal the judgment, just like they do in any family law case that went to trial.
Arbitrations are scheduled on Friday afternoons in the Allen Circuit Court. The cases are set for thirty (30) minutes each. Generally, in every arbitration session, each party will have ten (10) minutes to state their facts and arguments. The Arbitrator has the discretion to permit each party more time, if necessary.
Arbitration hearings are scheduled for parties who both are not represented by an attorney. There is no cost to the parties for the arbitration.
When each party checks in with the Court Scheduler for the arbitration, the Court Scheduler will provide the parties with a short written Introduction to Family Law Arbitration and give them the Agreement to Arbitrate (“Agreement”). The parties should read the Agreement and sign the Agreement if they want to arbitrate. If both parties do not sign the Agreement, the Arbitrator will begin the Court session with an attempt to obtain the parties’ agreement.
The Arbitrator may also serve as Temporary Judge. This is so the Arbitrator may, as Temporary Judge, make necessary orders on cases where both parties do not sign the Agreement. This includes, but is not limited to orders on motions to continue, default judgments when only one party appears, orders to mediate, orders and judgments when evidence is presented, and all other orders necessary when the parties do not both agree to arbitrate and when one party is represented by an attorney who appears after the case was scheduled (the arbitration statute does not allow Family Law Arbitration when only one party is represented by counsel).
At the end of each arbitration, the Arbitrator reviews the facts of the case and the law, and starts to work on the Arbitrator’s proposed findings and conclusions to the Court within five (5) working days of arbitration. After those written findings and conclusions are filed with the Court, the Court enters the judgment and sends the parties the arbitration result.
The arbitration form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) used in these cases usually satisfies the mediation requirement that is found in the local rules. The exception to this is contempt cases where a party complains that the other party is violating a parenting time order. In those cases, the Court typically orders that mediation occur (as required by the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines) before the arbitration is scheduled. In those contempt cases, the Court usually issues a Mediation Program Order, setting the mediation on the Court’s quarterly Mediation Day, where most of the costs of the mediation are paid from the Allen Circuit Court ADR fund.
The Arbitrators are attorneys who often appear in the Allen Circuit Court. They are selected by the Court from the Directory of Registered Mediators maintained by the Indiana Supreme Court. The Court pays arbitrators from the Allen Circuit Court ADR and/or Family Court funds.
Question: Where can I get a copy of the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines?
Answer: You can pick up a free copy of the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines in the Allen Circuit Court, Room 308 of the Allen County Courthouse. An electronic version is also available through the Indiana Supreme Court’s Website, http://www.in.gov/judiciary/rules/parenting/.
Question: How do I obtain proof of service?
Answer: It is your responsibility to ensure that the other party receives a copy of your filings. If the other party does not appear for the hearing on your petition, the Court may not proceed unless it has proof that the other side received a copy of your petition. Please review the following methods for obtaining proof of service so that you can avoid a delay in your case.
- Certified mail, return receipt requested: For a nominal fee, the mail carrier will take the papers to the door and have the other party sign a detachable card. This "return receipt" is then mailed back to you after it is signed, and will serve as proof of service as long as it is signed by the other party and filed with the Clerk of Court.
- Personal service by Sheriff: You can pay a fee to the Clerk of Court for the Sheriff to deliver your paperwork to the other party. A proof of service form will be filled out by the person serving the paperwork, which will then be filed with the Court. Speak with the Clerk of Court regarding fees for this option.
- Personal service by private process server: You can hire a professional process server for a fee to deliver your paperwork to the other party. A proof of service form will be filled out by the person serving the paperwork, which will then be filed with the Court. The Clerk of Court's office has a list posted of Court-approved process servers.
- By publication: When all other methods fail, the Court may allow service to be made by publication. This involves announcing in the newspaper where the other party is likely living for a specific amount of time. Please review Indiana Rule of Trial Procedure 4.13 for information about Service by Publication.
Question: What if I don’t see my name on the calendar in the rotunda of the Allen County Courthouse?
Answer: First, is your case in the Allen Circuit Court? If you have a Cause Number that starts with “02C01,” your case is in the Allen Circuit Court. If your Cause Number starts with a different prefix, you should check the Superior Court calendar; your case is not in the Circuit Court.
If you have an Allen Circuit Court case, check in Room 308 of the Allen County Courthouse.
Question: Where can I submit comments/feedback regarding my Allen Circuit Court experience?
Answer: You can pick-up an Opinion Card in Room 311 of the Allen County Courthouse. Fill out the Opinion Card and drop the Opinion Card in a mailbox outside Room 311 of the Allen County Courthouse. Judge Felts and the Allen Circuit Court always welcome constructive feedback, comments, and opinions from the public.
Question: What can Allen Circuit Court staff do to assist me with my case?
Answer: The Allen Circuit Court staff may:
- provide you with a telephone number of local lawyer referral services;
- they can explain and answer questions about how the Allen Circuit Court works;
- they can provide general information about court rules, procedures, and practices;
- they can provide information from the case file, including information as to when your next court hearing might be;
- they can provide a copy of the small claims manual and court forms that are available and instructions on how to complete them; and
- they can review your papers for completeness by checking signatures, notarization, correct county name, and correct case number.
The Allen Circuit Court staff cannot:
- provide legal advice or legal interpretations;
- advise you whether or not you should bring your case to court or give you an opinion about what will happen if you bring your case to court;
- advise you what to say in court;
- let you talk to the judge or magistrates outside court;
- cannot talk to the judge or magistrates for you about your case;
- fill out a form for you or tell you what words to use in your court papers;
- sign an order or change an order signed by the judge or magistrates;
- explain the meaning of a court order to you; and
- provide any guidance or interpretation of the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines for you.
Question: Where can I go to get legal advice?
Answer: There are a number of resources you can use to get legal advice:
(1) Allen County Public Library
Visit the main branch of the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, Fort Wayne, Indiana. The telephone number is (260) 421-1200. The website is http://www.acpl.lib.in.us/.
While library personnel cannot give legal advice, the Business and Technology section can provide research materials in book form, which will give you the information you need to prepare your legal document. They can provide the Indiana Code and the Indiana Rules of Court, which will give you information on court procedure and legal requirements. You should look at both State and Allen County’s Local Rules.
(2) The Indiana Supreme Court Website
Visit http://www.in.gov/judiciary/. This is the Website for the Indiana Supreme Court and as you explore the site, you will find a wealth of research materials and forms.
On the top of the main page, you will find a menu called “Information for…” Click on the word “Public.” It will take you to the “Information for Members of the Public” webpage. Scroll down the page and you will find information on “Getting Legal Help,” “Representing Yourself in Court,” “General Information” (which includes Indiana Rules of Court and the Indiana Code), and other topics of interest.
You can also access “Sample Court Forms” under the “Representing Yourself in Court” topic. Some available forms include forms for divorce, child support, name change, and protective orders.
(3) Allen County Bar Association
The Allen County Bar Association (“ACBA”) serves the needs of the local legal community and the general public with respect to law-related questions. Please do not hesitate to contact them for assistance.
Their office is located at 924 S. Calhoun, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802. Their telephone number is (260) 423-2358 and their fax number is (260) 423-1440. Their Website is http://www.allencountybar.org/.
The ACBA does not take walk-in clients for lawyer referrals or other matters.
(4) Lawyer Referral Service
Their office hours are Mondays – Fridays from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Their telephone number is (260) 423-2358. Please call for a referral; no walk-in appointments are accepted.
The ACBA’s Lawyer Referral Service has attorneys who practice in virtually all areas of the law including: bankruptcy, business and corporate, consumer, custody and visitation, criminal, divorce, employment, immigration, medical malpractice, misdemeanor, personal injury, probate, wills and estates, real estate, child support, social security, and worker’s compensation.
When you contact ACBA’s Lawyer Referral Service, trained staff will help you evaluate your situation. Then, if you need an attorney, you will be referred to one that practices in that area of law.
A $40.00 non-refundable fee is required for most referrals for up to a half-hour consultation. No consultation fees are charged for personal injury, social security, worker’s compensation, and medical malpractice cases.
If a lawyer is not what you need, the ACBA’s Lawyer Referral Service staff will direct you to another source of assistance.
(5) Legal Line
Do you have a legal question? Not sure if you need to hire an attorney? Then take advantage of Legal Line. You can speak directly with an attorney for free every Tuesday evening from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM just by calling (260) 423-2358. If your legal issue cannot be resolved, the attorney may refer you to ACBA’s Lawyer Referral Service.
(6) Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana
The Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana (“VLP”) is located at 927 S. Harrison St., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802. Hours are Mondays – Fridays from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Their office number is (260) 407-0917 or toll free at 1-(877) 407-0917. Their Website is http://www.vlpnei.org/.
VLP offers services in: adoption, consumer law, estate law, guardianships, landlord/tenant, real estate, social security disability, bankruptcy (client must have filing fees), collections, contracts, family law (dissolutions), immigration, POA/Wills/Health Care Directives, Small Claims, Tort Defense, and Pro Se Clinics for Dissolution of Marriage (self-service clinics where both parties agree to terms of property settlement, parenting time, and child support).
Not all people who qualify for VLP assistance are referred to an attorney for direct representation. Some people may be placed in one of our other programs. Other cases may not be able to be placed because we simply cannot find an attorney to help or because there is nothing an attorney can do to help fix the problem.
VLP cannot assist with: change of venue, criminal matters, emergencies, CHINS cases, driver’s licenses or traffic tickets, incarcerated people, fee generating cases (personal injury), cases where a hearing is set within the next thirty (30) days, any case against the judicial or criminal justice system or any government entity, and cases filed in other pro bono districts or other states.
(7) Indiana Legal Services
Indiana Legal Services is located at 919 S. Harrison St., Suite 200, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802. Their telephone number is (260) 424-9155 or (888) 442-8600. Their fax number is (260) 424-9166. Their website is http://www.indianalegalservices.org/. Their office hours are Mondays – Fridays from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM. To complete an application for their services, please call them on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM.
In order to be eligible for their services, an individual must have an income up to 125% of Federal Poverty Guidelines with exceptions in certain circumstances.
Indiana Legal Services practices family law (with priority given to divorce cases involving domestic violence); housing (eviction, landlord/tenant issues, subsidized housing, foreclosure, etc.); public benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, TANF, social security, unemployment insurance, etc.); consumer (debt collection, loans, vehicles, warranties, taxes, etc.); immigration; and other civil legal matters.
Indiana Legal Services in Fort Wayne serves the counties of Adams, Allen, Blackford, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, Jay, Steuben, Wells, and Whitley. For services outside these counties, you may contact another Indiana Legal Services office.
(8) Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic
Intakes are available on a first come-first serve basis. You can register on site. Intakes take place on Mondays (register at 5:00 PM) at Catherine Kasper Place, 2826 S. Calhoun St., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46807; Wednesdays (register at 5:00 PM) at Faith Lutheran Church, 1700 E. Pettit Ave., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46806; and on the Third Saturday of Every Month (register at 10:00 AM) at Catherine Kasper Place, 2826 S. Calhoun St., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46807.
In order to be eligible for their services, an individual must have an income up to 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
They practice the areas of landlord/tenant, uncontested custody/visitation, uncontested child support, bankruptcy, wills/estates, discrimination, housing/foreclosure, guardianship, immigration, consumer/debt, SSI/SSD, and tax controversies.
They cannot provide services in criminal or divorce cases.
Question: Can I use a telephone to call my attorney since cellphones are not allowed in the Allen County Courthouse?
Answer: Yes, you can utilize the Allen Circuit Court’s courtesy phone in Room 308 of the Allen County Courthouse. You cannot call long distance and calls must be kept to a reasonable length.