Child Custody Legal Help in Northwest Indiana

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                                SEPTEMBER 2008 REPORT


Population: 484,564 (2000 census)

County Seat: Crown Point

Number of Judicial Officers: 17 Judges and 13 Magistrates in Lake County Circuit & Superior
     Courts, of which 3 Judges and 7 Magistrates regularly hear family matters.

Project Implementation: April 1, 2004

Family Court Judges: Judge Lorenzo Arredondo & Magistrate Cheryl Williamson in Lake
       Circuit Court, sitting in Crown Point; Judge Elizabeth Tavitas, Magistrate Kristen Hill, &
       Magistrate Nanette Raduenz in Lake Superior Court, Room Three, sitting in Gary; Judge
       Mary Beth Bonaventura, Magistrate Charlotte Ann Peller, Magistrate Glenn D.
       Commons, Magistrate Jeffrey Miller, and Magistrate John M. Sedia in Lake Superior
       Court, Juvenile Division, sitting in Crown Point.

Family Court Personnel:

       In Circuit Court: existing personnel were reassigned on a part-time, as-needed basis to
       perform tasks necessary to fulfillment of the Family Court Pilot Project and the ADR
       Plan. Besides the presiding judge and the family court magistrate, these include the court
       administrator, the family court office manager, the family court reporter, and the
       Domestic Relations Counseling Bureau staff, as well as the part-time staff attorney.
       Circuit Court added a part-time clinical psychologist in 2005 and an additional part-time
       family and marriage therapy counselor in 2006 to provide counseling services on-site. In
       2007, the family and marriage therapy counselor left Circuit Court for other employment
       but returns on a regular basis to conduct divorce education classes, and Circuit Court
       hired a second psychologist with a doctorate degree to provide counseling services two
       afternoons a week.

       In Superior Court, Room Three, the Office Manager of the Court also functions as the
       Family Court Coordinator to manage the Court’s Pro Se Legal Clinic and the ADR
       Program. Other office staff assist as needed.

       In Superior Court, Juvenile Division: A Court Reporter has been assigned as Family
       Court Coordinator to implement and manage our Alternative Dispute Resolution
       Program. In addition, Juvenile Court’s Administrative Assistant aides in some of the
       duties, primarily when the Family Court Coordinator is unavailable.

Contact Person:
       Nikki Angel and/or Alice Kuzemka in Lake Circuit Court,,

       Victoria Hadrick in Lake Superior Court, Room Three ,, 219-

       Janine Samson (Court Reporter/Family Court Coordinator),,
       (219)660-6959 or Lenise Towarnicki, (Administrative Assistant),, (219)660-6964 in Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division.


Family Court Project Grant: $35,000 annually ($17,500 per year each for Circuit Court and
       Superior Court Room Three), for a two-year period covering 2004 and 2005, plus $5,000
       additional grant funding for 2005, and $4,500 additional grant funding for 2006, each for
       Circuit Court and Superior Court Room Three. During 2007, Lake County received an
       additional $11,000.00 in project grant funds for the year 2007 and $6,700.00 as an
       advance on funds for the year 2008, split equally between Circuit Court and Superior
       Court Room Three. We received an additional $5,000.00 in the year 2008, also to be
       split between Circuit Court and Superior Court, Room Three.

ADR Plan, funded by the $20 ADR Fee added to the filing fee for dissolutions, legal separations
     and paternity cases, which has generated $74,090.00 for Circuit Court from April 2004
     through July 31, 2008; and $74,240.00 for Superior Court Room 3 from April 2004
     through July 31, 2008; and $20,800.00 from Juvenile Court from April 2004 through
     today’s date (Sept. 17, 2008). Juvenile Court additionally received grant funding in the
     amount of $1,100.00 for the year 2005.


To strengthen the fabric of the family by: Ensuring that the courts are fully informed as to each
    family’s situation before making decisions impacting that family.
Facilitating sharing of relevant and up-to-date information between the various courts hearing
    family-related matters.
Keeping the various courts apprised of all relevant proceedings.
Identifying clients’ needs and providing direct services.
Acting as a bridge between clients’ needs and community resources.
Making available needed services to low-income families at no or reduced cost.

Family Court Model and Programming:

Because Lake County handles family cases in three different locations under three separate
Courts, each with its own presiding judge, Lake County has developed a family court project that
runs differently and independently in each Court. Each of the three presiding judges developed a
program that fits the needs of his or her own Court. While the ADR Fee is charged to all newly
filed dissolution, legal separation and paternity cases, the funds are segregated by Court, and
each of the three family court projects controls and spends its ADR Fee money in accordance
with its own plan. The goal of the ADR Plan is to provide mediation, facilitation, parenting time
coordination, reconciliation counseling, parental counseling and other services at a reduced cost
to low-income families whom the Court believes could be helped by such services.

As part of the family court project, the Courts in Lake County have implemented an information-
sharing between multiple courts program, the main components of which include gathering of
identifier information with the eventual goal of computer-automating the identification of
multiple-case families, the capability to easily track the current status of the separate cases each
multiple case family has involvement in, and the facilitation of easy access to records of the
different courts by the family court judicial officers and staff. The intent of the Lake County
information sharing model is not on-going tracking of all additional cases, but rather awareness
of the existence of additional cases with the capability to track or to quickly receive updated
information as to the status of selected additional cases of particular concern. The goal of this
information sharing and records access is to assist the judicial officer hearing the case to make
informed decisions, avoid entering conflicting orders and assist the Court in channeling families
in need of services to appropriate on-staff, on-site or private local service providers.

Under the Lake County system, all cases remain in the original courts, and all courts have
retained the jurisdictional boundaries and mandates they had before the initiation of this
program. Additionally, Lake County did not adopt the Model Family Court Rules available
under the pilot project program, but continues to operate under the local Family Court Rules that
were in place prior to our participation in the pilot project.


The information sharing project as implemented in Lake Circuit Court begins with collection of
the identifier information at the time of filing, by way of a mandatory Information Sheet.
Without the identifiers, that is, social security numbers and birth date of every involved
household member, the computer system cannot make a positive match and provide the judicial
officer with an accurate picture of the judicial involvement and status of each family member.
Our eventual goal is to automate this identification process, so that when a case is scheduled for
hearing, the case file will automatically arrive on the bench with a galley sheet listing all other
currently pending and recent cases these family members are involved in. As the system stands
now, the work of compiling that is being done only at the outset of a case by a combination of
what the parties self-report and additional cases in the system of which the family court office
staff can make a positive match by computer search. The file is tagged by a sticker that
identifies this as a multiple case family, and another sticker that indicates that an Information
Sheet is on file in the family court office’s confidential file.

Information Sheets are filed on green paper to signify confidentiality, and are kept in the family
court offices in a separate storage file. When files with a multiple case family sticker come up
from the Clerk’s Office for hearings, the court reporter retrieves the Information Sheet and clips
it to the front of the file. This way, the judicial officer hearing the case has the Information
Sheet listing of other cases at the bench when this family appears in court. This helps the
judicial officer see what other involvements this family has in the judicial system, serves as an
alert to potential conflicts and to other underlying problems, and assists in the ability to steer the
family to appropriate services. When the hearing is over, the court reporter collects the
Information Sheets and refiles them in the confidential storage before the court files are returned
to the Clerk’s Office.

Court records between the Lake Circuit Court and the Lake Superior Courts are generally easily
accessible to each other, as we share a common computer system. As Juvenile Court in Lake
County is on another separate computer system, and juvenile records are by law confidential, a
system has been developed whereby a request for information or a request for copies of relevant
court orders can be made between authorized personnel of the three courts and the appropriate
items can be either faxed or hand delivered to the requesting court.

At the time any such case comes up for hearing, the judicial officer can tell at a glance whether
this family has involvement with other cases. The judicial officer in his or her discretion, can
refer the family for services under the ADR Plan or under a variety of other programs already in
place. The process involves directing the family to the Lake Circuit Court Domestic Relations
Counseling Bureau (the DRCB), which is on-site in the same facility as the Court. The DRCB
personnel conduct a detailed informational intake with the family members, including financial
data, and determine what services in addition to the Court-ordered ones may help the family, and
arrange the needed services either with our on-staff providers or with outside providers in the
local community. The DRCB also determines the co-payment due under the ADR Plan, collects
it and accounts for it. The DRCB is responsible for collecting much of the data required under
this program. The DRCB also monitors the parties’ compliance with court orders for services
through the DRCB. At the completion of services, the DRCB reports back to the Court as to the
provision and outcome of the ordered services; this is done by completion of a detailed data
sheet, which is then kept by the Family Court to compile statistics.

As to the Lake Circuit Court ADR Plan, our goal is to make available to low-income families
mediation and counseling services on a no-cost or low-cost basis. To that end we have been
contracting with local mediators to provide time-limited, capped-total-cost mediation to qualified
families falling within the purview of our program. We pay mediators $90 an hour, capped at a
total of $400 per case, for mediation services. We charge the families a co-payment based on a
sliding scale determined by family income, and the co-payment is applied to the mediator’s fee.

Lake Circuit Family Court hosts a legal representative from Legal Services of Northwest Indiana
Inc., every Thursday afternoon. This person screens litigants as to whether they qualify for pro
bono legal services, and to do an initial intake if appropriate. We also host law students and their
supervising attorney from Valparaiso University Law School Legal Clinic to assist pro se
litigants and low-income families appearing in Family Court.

In 2005 we hired a professional clinical psychologist to provide reconciliation counseling and
other appropriate counseling on an in-house basis. This psychologist is on-site here for one
morning a week, and the DRCB staff schedules appointments for her so as to utilize her time
here as fully as possible. Families receiving counseling through this aspect of our program also
pay the co-payment determined by the same sliding scale. In 2006 we hired a second part-time
family and marriage therapy counselor, who also provided counseling services on-site through
the DRCB on a similar basis as our clinical psychologist. During 2007, our family and marriage
therapy counselor left us for other employment, but returns on a regular basis to conduct the
divorce education classes we now offer. To pick up his counseling caseload, we hired a second
part-time psychologist with a doctorate degree, who provides on-site counseling two afternoons
a week. The DRCB has also hosted externs from Purdue University and the Chicago School of
Psychology to assist in counseling services.

Additionally, the Lake Circuit Court offered local mediation training to the local legal and
counseling professionals on reduced cost basis in 2004, in exchange for a pledge of a certain
number of pro bono mediations to be arranged through the DRCB. This program was well-
attended and generated quite a few pro bono mediation pledges which we utilized to provide
services to low-income families. This allowed our ADR Fee money to accumulate for a time so
that we had a cushion of funding for when we started paying for ADR services in late 2005.

Both the ADR Plan and the Family Court Pilot Projects developed by Lake Circuit Court are
overseen by an advisory board consisting of professionals from various disciplines and other
prominent people from the local community. We currently have a number of doctors,
practitioners from the mental health fields, people from law enforcement, representatives from
local charitable organizations and shelters, educators and religious leaders on the board. The
advisory board meets periodically to review the progress of the programs and offer suggestions
for the future. The day-to-day operations of the ADR Plan and Family Court Pilot Projects are
supervised by Circuit Court personnel, namely Judge Arredondo, DRCB Director Frey,
Magistrate Williamson, Court Administrator Angel and staff attorney Kuzemka.

During the year 2007, the Circuit Court has started offering an in-house, staff led divorce
education class. This is the Trans-Parenting program run through the DRCB. Three DRCB
staffers completed the required training and are certified to present this program. Circuit Court
is now requiring all dissolution litigants with minor children to complete either the Trans-
Parenting class through Circuit Court or similar approved programming run by an outside
provider prior to being granted a dissolution. We also require all such litigants to complete the web-based worksheets. The Trans-Parenting training was paid for from
funds and grants unconnected to the ADR Plan or the Family Court project, and brings in
revenue to the DRCB in user fees and charges for the materials. The Trans-Parenting
organization has developed a program called Rollercoasters for children ages 5 through 12
whose parents are divorcing; we began offering this program in June 2008, and so far we have
provided this valuable and helpful program to approximately 90 children. While none of this
programming is funded by ADR Plan or Family Court Project money, they all are a good fit with
and complement our ADR and Family Court programming, and represent a way to add valuable
services without excessive financial outlay.

Lastly, we initiated our first Mediation Day in September 2005, with good results. We provided
mediation services under the ADR Plan to fourteen (14) families, and this resulted in thirteen
(13) full or partial agreements, relieving the parties from litigating these issues and freeing up the
court-time it would have taken to hear them. Nineteen (19) local mediators participated in this
program. We ran a similar Mediation Day in December 2005, through which we provided
mediation services to seven (7) families through the participation of six (6) mediators, which
resulted in six (6) full settlements and one (1) partial settlement. We are considering conducting
additional Mediation Days in the future.


For informational sharing purposes, Lake Superior Court, Room Three, requires the completion
of a Confidential Information Sheet with the filing of each new case. The information includes
the names, social security numbers and date of birth for each party, every child of the household,
and for any other person residing with the parties or the children. The form also requires a list of
any other court cases involving the parties, their children or any other member of the household.
 Green paper is used to signify the confidentiality of the information. The completed forms are
kept in a “Confidential” envelope on the left side of each court file. Judicial officers and staff
have access to the information.

Lake Superior Court Room Three has adopted an ADR Plan designed to provide primarily
mediation and facilitation services to low income families. Qualified attorneys have agreed to
accept referrals from the Court and to provide mediation services at the rate of $90.00 per hour
with a four (4) hour maximum payment. Litigants are required to contribute to the cost of the
mediation based on their income. The minimum payment is $20.00 per litigant. ADR funds
collected for Room Three filings are used to pay any balance of the mediator’s fee. By Order on
agreement of the parties or upon the Court’s own motion, the parties are referred to mediation.
The FCC coordinates information, prepares the Mediation Order and assigns the case to a
mediator. Standardized forms are used for the referral and to provide information to the
mediators as well as for the convenience of the mediator to report to the court and FCC. The
FCC maintains statistical information and processes the necessary documents for payment to be
made to the mediator.

In July 2007 our ADR Plan was amended and received approval from the Division of State Court
Administration to allow the use of the ADR funds for parental counseling regarding parenting
time particularly where complex issues exist such as reintegrating an absent parent into a child’s
life, when mental health issues of the parent or the child are a factor, or when the relationship
between the parents has deteriorated to the point that their conflict has caused emotional harm to
the child. ADR funds may also be used to provide parenting time coordination in high conflict
cases which otherwise would not require therapeutic intervention.

 In April 2008 our ADR Plan was amended and received approval from the Division of State
Court Administration to allow the use of the ADR funds for the services of a “Facilitator” in
conjunction with our ADR program and Pro Se Legal Clinic. Since it began on 9/2/08, the
facilitation program has been of assistance to twelve (12) families.

The goals of our facilitation program are:

1 . To provide an alternative to adversarial conflict resolution in the courtroom, and the
inevitable escalation of hostility.

2. To give the parties to the facilitation the opportunity to be heard, to hear each other’s point-of-
view in a positive and problem-solving environment, and to work together to reach an agreed-
upon resolution regarding the issues involved. All facilitated agreements are voluntary and
consensual. No one is forced to accept a proposed agreement.

3. To achieve more efficiency for the court staff and to make better use of court time, by, for
example, reducing the number of repeated hearings in the same case. It will also expedite cases
by bringing the parties together faster than the court could set a long hearing.

4. To provide protection and some guidance for those who are indigent and cannot afford the
assistance of counsel.

All information obtained in preparation for, and within the facilitation is treated confidentially.

The Lake County Family Court Facilitation Program will be using attorneys who have been
trained in family law mediation. The lawyers have practiced in family law and are familiar with
the legal and social issues relevant to these types of cases. The facilitator chosen for a particular
case will have no relationship with any of the parties and no independent interest in the outcome.

The ADR rules do not apply to the Facilitation. However, the facilitation process is similar to
mediation, and therefore ADR rules are useful guidelines for the facilitator and participants.

The facilitator meets with pro se litigants prior to their hearings, either provisionally or final, to
facilitate an agreement between the parties. The facilitator also determines whether other
services would aid the families, such as mediation, counseling, parenting time coordination
and/or parenting classes. If appropriate, the facilitator would then make the referral to such

The funding provided by the Family Court Project in 2004 has enabled the creation of a Pro Se
Family Court Legal Clinic at the Lake Superior Court, Room Three, location in the Gary
Courthouse. Through cooperation and coordination with the Indiana 1st Judicial District Pro
Bono Committee and Indiana Legal Services, Inc. the clinic offers free family related assistance
with filing pleadings to qualifying families. The Clinic is open Wednesday mornings from 9:00
a.m. to noon, and Thursday afternoons from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. each week. Volunteer
attorneys are available to provide basic information and assistance with the preparation of
pertinent pleadings. Eligibility is determined by the Federal Poverty Level Income Guidelines.

Assistance through the clinic is by appointment only. Litigants contact the Family Court
Coordinator who conducts an initial interview to determine eligibility and coordinates the
scheduling of appointments. Both the attorney and the litigant sign documents acknowledging
that the attorney will not be representing the litigant in the courtroom during any proceedings.
The Indiana 1st Judicial District Pro Bono Committee has agreed to credit each attorney with
one hour of pro bono service for each hour they volunteer their time. The FCC maintains the
records and reports the attorney’s name and number of hours volunteered to the Plan

A computer is available for use of the volunteer attorneys and litigants which contains templates
 created for specific family related circumstances: i.e, dissolution, modification, rule to show
cause, etc. A program for child support calculation is also available.

Also, in July of 2008, Lake Superior Court, Room Three, in conjunction with the Indiana
University School of Law and the Indiana First Judicial District Pro Bono Committee sponsored
a Guardian Ad Litem Seminar.

The seminar was funded through a Grant awarded to Judge Elizabeth Tavitas from the American
Bar Association Fund for Justice and Education and the American Bar Association Child
Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project.

The main objective of the seminar was to educate novice and experienced Guardians Ad Litem
as well on how to conduct thorough GAL investigations without undermining family
relationships. In exchange for attending this GAL seminar free of charge, the attendee(s) agreed
to accept three GAL cases pro bono in each of the Lake County Family Courts. As a result of
the seminar, 60 low income families will have the assistance of GAL services at no cost.

The seminar generated interest throughout the State of Indiana and other counties are seeking
information toward possibly sponsoring a GAL seminar for their counties.
The Advisory Board of the Pro Se Clinic and ADR Program for Room Three continues to meet
quarterly to discuss the functioning of the program and its continued growth and success.


Juvenile Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program provides for low-income
families to be afforded the opportunity to participate in mediation. At the onset of our program,
Juvenile Court was also a participant in the mediation training program initiated by the Circuit
Court. That program consisted of each participant receiving mediation training at a reduced cost
for return of 3 pro bono mediations (one each for Circuit Court, Superior Court-Room 3 and
Superior Court-Juvenile Division). After utilizing each mediator from the pro bono list, Juvenile
Court subsequently employed two mediators. In 2006, Juvenile Court implemented a Family
Resolution Day held once a month, at which time both mediators would mediate between 3 to 6
cases in an evening. Cases were scheduled during after-work hours to be able to assist the
parents in not conflicting with their work schedule (if any). However, after discovering issues
with the Family Resolution Day, it ultimately was not conducive to time management of the
cases, nor our program. So, we then terminated the Family Resolution Day.

We then substituted the Family Resolution Day with a different method in which to provide
mediations to our parents, wherein our Family Court Coordinator would initiate a file on the case
and make contact with the parents through correspondence. The Family Court Coordinator
would send a packet of information to each parent with the pertinent information regarding
mediation, contact information and fees due and owing. As of March of 2008, the method
changed once again. Through discussions and meetings between our Family Court Coordinator
and our 2 mediators, we believed all areas of our program would be better served if our
mediators made contact with our litigants as opposed to our Family Court Coordinator. It was
also implemented that our mediators would collect the co-pay fee from each parent, but then
each parent would continue to pay their ADR Fee of $10 to the Clerk of the Court. Our Family
Court Coordinator continues to assist our litigants when needed, but primary contact is
essentially between the litigants and the mediators. Once a case is referred to our ADR Program,
our Family Court Coordinator determines eligibility and opens a case file. That information is
provided to our mediators and they then initiate contact with the litigants. A Status Hearing is
set with the Court on every mediation case as a follow-up. Parties are ordered to appear on cases
that did not reach an agreement or on cases where the parents did not participate in the
mediation. If the parties reach an agreement, they do not have to appear for the Status Hearing.
Upon conclusion of the scheduled mediation, the mediator provides the Court with a Mediation
Outcome Form and/or Agreement.

Although Juvenile Court has revised its program several times, we continue to evaluate it so that
it functions in the best possible manner.
On each mediation case, parents contribute to the cost of mediation two ways, one of which, is
through a $20.00 Fee (Alternative Dispute Resolution Fee) assessment per case with each parent
owing $10.00 each. The second way is through assessment of a co-payment fee per case/per
parent. The co-payment is determined by each parent’s ability to pay based upon their income
and as set out by the Lake County Family Court Guideline Table. The ADR Fee is assessed
upon the filing of each new Petition to Establish Paternity, as well as, each referral made to the
Alternative Dispute Resolution Program. The co-payment fee is assessed for purposes of
assisting Juvenile Court in the payment of the mediator’s services. Referrals to our Alternative
Dispute Resolution Program can be made through a Paternity or Dissolution of Marriage Case.
Additionally, pursuant to I.C. 33-37-3-1, Juvenile Court assesses a $20.00 fee on cases
transferred from the IVD Division of the Lake Superior Court. The assessment of that fee
applies to cases with an adjudication of paternity only.

Juvenile Court does not offer counseling services at this time. However, we have recently
implemented referrals to Circuit Court’s Domestic Relation Bureau’s “Trans-Parenting” Class.
These Parenting Class referrals are determined by our mediators at the time of mediation.

Juvenile Court’s mediators have agreed to provide mediation services at a reduced rate of $80.00
per hour, not to exceed a $400.00 allotment per case. Both of our mediators have agreed to
accept a designated percentage of their mediation cases pro bono as well. Those cases wherein
our mediators accept the case pro bono, a co-payment is, therefore, not assessed against the
parents. The minimum co-payment that can be assessed against each parent is $20.00, the
maximum being $400.00.

Our Family Court Coordinator and 2 mediators work together to comprise and manage all
statistical information related to our program.

Juvenile Court also maintains an Information Sheet provided by each petitioner. The only
difference is that it is clipped to each paternity case file and kept in the Juvenile Division’s
Clerk’s Office. Our Clerk then initiates the identifier information with stickers placed on each
paternity file as it applies to each case. Phases of our Information Sharing Protocol include:
1)Judge to Judge phone calls; 2)General Record Checks; and 3)Case Specific Requests for
Information. A protocol has been outlined and put in place for each phase and forwarded to
Circuit Court and Superior Court-Room 3.

Families Served in Lake County

Lake County is a Phase III participant in the Family Court Pilot Project. We began
implementing our plan on April 1, 2004.

From the inception through September 2005, Circuit Court provided mediation services to forty-
five (45) families with pro bono services from the mediation training program, and mediation
services funded by the ADR Fee Fund to twenty-nine (29) families. Additionally, DRCB
personnel provided mediation services to eight (8) families in that time period; these services do
not require a separate outlay of funds. From December 2005 through October 2006, we have
provided ADR services to an additional twenty-three (23) families through ADR Plan-paid
services, and an additional thirteen (13) families through staff-provided services, which involved
46.5 hours of staff mediation time. In that same time period, we have provided on-site
counseling services to twenty-three (23) families, which has been funded through a combination
of ADR Plan funds, Family Court Pilot Project Grant funds and funding from a variety of other
sources. Since October 2006, we have continued to provide services under our plan, providing
ADR Plan-paid mediation for an additional 30 families, staff-provided mediation for a number of
other families, and in-house counseling services for over 50 families. We also continue to
monitor mediation done by outside providers for completion and court-order compliance in
numerous additional cases.

From April 2004 to August 31, 2008 Lake Superior Court, Room Three has submitted fifty-four
(54) cases for mediation through the ADR program. From it’s opening in November 2004 to the
end of the reporting period August 2007, the Family Court Legal Clinic has provided services to
five hundred ninety-one (591) low-income to moderate income individuals. Since amendments
to the ADR program, there have been twelve (12) facilitations and one (1) referral to parenting
time coordination.

In 2005, Juvenile Court provided mediation services to only three (3) families. As of November
of 2006, we had provided mediation services to 115 families. At the beginning of October,
2007, 201 cases were referred to our Alternative Dispute Resolution Program for mediation. As
of today’s date, Juvenile Court has had approximately 310 cases referred to our program.

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