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Hundreds with Marital Woes Find New Way to Cure Them

July 22, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Hundreds of families plagued with marital problems are receiving a new deal at the Court of Domestic Relations in Brooklyn through an experiment which may shortly be extended to similar courts throughout the city, it was announced by the Welfare Council of New York. The experiment was started by the Welfare Council committee headed by Dr. Charles Zunser, of the National Desertion Bureau, and Dr. John Slawson, of the Jewish Board of Guardians.

It is an experiment in settling acute family troubles out of court —on a social work rather than on a legal basis. Since it was initiated last December by the Welfare Council’s Domestic Relations Court Committee, this unofficial arm of the Family Court has directed more than 100 families to privately financed welfare agencies for solution of their problems instead of involving them in court action. Four hundred other families already involved in various stages of court procedure have been referred to private family agencies for auxiliary aid, ranging from relief to adjustment of the marital situation. The work was initiated in close consultation with Judge Edward F. Boyle, presiding justice of the Domestic Relations Court and has had his hearty cooperation.


“People come to the Domestic Relations Court in moments of anger, jealousy or despair to seek legal redress,” said Miss Grace A. Reeder, Secretary of the Domestic Relations Court Committee of the Welfare Council Friday. “We believe many of them could be better served by case work treatment of the situation, and by the alleviation of acute problems, such as unemployment, destitution and physical and mental ills, and conflicts in the family group, rather than by redress through legal action. In many cases action of the court may be permanently harmful to the marital situation rather than helpful to it.”

On the basis of this belief, held by many legal authorities as well as by social workers, a trained case worker, Miss Helen Thoma, was loaned by the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities last December to work in cooperation with the Brooklyn Family Court in behalf of the private family agencies of Brooklyn, the Catholic Charities, the United Jewish Aid Society and the Brooklyn A. I. C. P. and the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities and with the hearty approval of the borough division of the Emergency Home Relief Bureau. A similar plan is also being tried out in the Borough of Queens through an arrangement sponsored by the Catholic Charities and Big Sisters of that borough.

Families whose marital tangles could not very well be aired in open court were interviewed, often every member of the family meeting Miss Thoma privately to pour out his troubles to her. Cases have been referred to her by the probation officers and by the judges of the court.


Last week Miss Thoma interviewed her 500th troubled case. The “case” was a distraught and bedraggled mother whose three young children clung to her.

“My husband has a CWA job and he won’t get up out of bed and go to work,” she said. “Today when I was out my landlady locked the door. We have no place to go.”

Miss Thoma pieced together the picture. The man disliked his CWA job; he had never done that kind of work and he was rebelling. But before he lost his job two years ago he had been always a good provider.

That Miss Thoma says, is typi###cal of scores of cases which have ### to her in these last months. ### estimated, one in every four complaints that has reached her desk has come from families in which the husband or father is a CWA worker.

Although Miss Thoma’s position is an unofficial one, a position created by the courtesy of Judge Boyle, social workers express the hope the experiment may lead to the appointment eventually of social worker referees for all Domestic Relations Courts, officials who would offer a consultative service to those coming to the family courts of the city to make their petition.

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