Domestic Relations Court Dispute Resolution
What is mediation?
For most people, the prospect of going to court is unpleasant, perhaps even frightening. Domestic Relations court hearings, with emotionally charged issues such as the determination of parental rights and responsibilities and the amount of child support to be paid, can be a difficult experience. Experts seeking ways to eliminate the adversarial “win/lose” atmosphere of traditional court proceedings have long advocated the use of alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation to help parties settle their differences. The parties may choose a qualified private mediator or they can participate in the Family Matters Mediation program. A party may request mediation, or the court may order mediation, if it appears that it would be beneficial to the family.
Domestic relations cases with children involved are unique because the parties will continue to have contact after the case has been concluded. There is research stating that parents experiencing significant conflict between themselves have a detrimental effect on the development of the children. It is believed that mediation is very beneficial in these types of cases so that each party can have input and help develop a solution to the case without creating a toxic atmosphere. Further, mediation helps to set up a feasible problem-solving avenue for future disagreements that may arise.
If parties are dealing with contested issues during or after the divorce proceedings, mediation may be scheduled to address the issue. Mediators used by the court are attorneys who have training in mediation specific to domestic relations. In an informal setting, the mediator serves as a facilitator to help parties clarify the issues in dispute, to identify possible options to resolve the dispute, and to develop a workable plan for the resolution of the dispute. If the parties are able to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution to the contested issues, the agreement will be prepared by an attorney or the parties and signed by the parties. The mediation agreement is not binding on the parties until approved by the parties’ attorneys (if any) and the magistrate or judge assigned to the case.
Another option for parents in high conflict cases is the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator. This is an attorney who has been specially trained to resolve ongoing disputes between the parties after the litigation is completed. The attorney will listen to both parties and then make a decision about the dispute. The process is intended to help the parties deal with day-to-day issues without the need of returning to court. See Local Rule 6.15.
Family Matters Mediation
This program is designed to provide quick access for the parties to work through a disagreement without spending a lot of time and money on litigation. They will be able to mediate with an attorney/mediator who has been specifically trained in family law and mediation. Further (s)he is experienced in family law. The mediator also has training in domestic violence so (s)he knows how to handle cases that have included domestic violence. For those with concerns about domestic violence, the process is conducted at the court so that security is available. It is to be used for the following purposes:
- The parties have a shared parenting plan that requires mediation prior to filing a motion in court.
- A party calls the court concerning a dispute with the other party, e.g. interpreting the parenting time schedule, payment of medical expenses, etc.
- By order of the court.
The process is initiated by a call from the parties or by order of the court. If the parties call prior to filing a motion, they will both have to agree to mediate. (They have already done that if they have a Shared Parenting Plan.) When they call the court, we will email/send the “Mediation Intake” form to them and give them the name and phone number of the mediator. The parties are then to call the mediator and have the completed intake form and pay their portion of the fee for the mediator. The mediator will schedule the mediation in the courthouse within 2 weeks after arranging a time with the parties.
The parties will then come to the courthouse at the scheduled time, check in with DR court and be directed to a conference room. If there is a CPO/TPO, the petitioner should notify security upon arrival. The parties will then work through the identified issues with the mediator for up to 3 hours. The mediator will notify the court in writing if there is an agreement or not. The parties can then submit a CJE or dismissal if necessary. If there is no agreement, the court will schedule the appropriate hearing.
The parties may choose to continue mediation if they are making progress and want more time to put together an entry for the court. That is left to the discretion of the parties and the mediator. Any additional cost will be arranged directly with the mediator.
A parenting coordinator (PC) is a person with special training who is appointed to assist a family in ongoing disputes regarding the children after the conclusion of a divorce hearing. The parenting coordinator signs a contract with the parents and is contacted when there are disagreements between the parties. The parenting coordinator then makes a decision after hearing both sides of the dispute. The PC is used to help high conflict families make decisions in a timely and cost-efficient manner. The goal is to try to minimize the necessity of the families returning to court and to help them avoid repeated litigation.
The intent of this process is to try to work through the difficult issues involved in disentangling the marital affairs. The concept is that the parties can problem solve the issues with their attorneys and cooperate in finding the best solution that will maximize the benefits for the family without resorting to litigation in a court room. If you are interested in this approach, you can find attorneys in Northwest Ohio who practice collaborative law.