BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A group in Montana has announced plans to start the state’s first domestic violence specialty court.

Alternatives Inc. and Justice of the Peace David Carter are leading the proposal after securing a $44,000 grant to research the idea, the Billings Gazette reported.

The funding comes from the federal Violence Against Women Act through the state Board of Crime Control, officials said.

Group members do not yet have a plan to fund the court for the long-term or know how to determine which cases are eligible for the court.

Alternatives development director Amanda Green, Carter and others on an advisory committee exploring the proposal envision the court as a one-stop-shop for people experiencing domestic violence, including the ability to obtain housing assistance.

Legal services are currently spread across multiple courts, meaning prosecution could be in one court, divorce in another and property conflicts in another, officials said. However, a justice of the peace in Montana does not have the authority to order parenting plans or finalize a divorce, officials said.

The group is seeking a solution and held its first meeting Friday, officials said. They expect to receive help from the Center for Court Innovation headquartered in New York, officials said.

Some domestic violence courts in the U.S. handle both felony and misdemeanor cases and others handle misdemeanors only, a format the Yellowstone County group is considering, Green said.

“If you can prevent it at the misdemeanor stage, you won’t have to get to the felony,” she said.

The Billings police domestic violence unit responded to 613 calls in 2019, an increase from the previous five-year high of 580 in 2017, authorities said.

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