The Office of Family Mediation consists of a team of trained professionals dedicated to assisting participants in resolving their disputes regarding custody, visitation and other family issues, in which they have extensive experience.
Separation and Divorce Cases
Separation and divorce create changes for families. Plans for the children, division of property and financial arrangements all need to be worked out. It is also a time of great emotional upheaval. These changes and emotions can result in conflicts between family members. How these conflicts are handled can influence the entire family's adjustment, especially children's, for years to come. For most people, conflict is frightening and stressful. Conflict can, however, result in the productive airing of differences and can lead to creative solutions that address the changing needs of all family members. Even in the face of anger, fear and hurt, it is possible for people to negotiate an agreement that balances the interests of each family member and benefits everyone in the long run.
Mediation is one way for family members to resolve their own conflicts during and after separation or divorce, or when parents have never lived together. Parties are helped to understand the needs of children, reach agreements in their best interests and develop a cooperative parenting relationship. Hostile and competitive feelings are reduced so individuals can better adjust to changing situations and plan for the future.
Children are almost never involved in mediation and will only be included if the mediator feels it is appropriate in a particular case. It can be comforting for children to see their parents working together to resolve issues, rather than fighting and competing over them.
Juvenile Court Cases
If a child cannot return home, mediation may be ordered to help develop an action plan. The Juvenile Court orders mediation when children are placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services. Parents are given a mediation appointment date and must attend. Mediation services are provided at no cost to the participants. Mediation may be ordered at future Juvenile Court hearings when requested by parents, attorneys, social workers or children.
A mediated agreement increases the possibility for a parent to maintain some connection to their child that is agreeable to the agency, the approved relative and the adoptive family. This agreement also provides:
- What parents will need to do to have their child return home and how their social worker can help
- A visitation schedule for parents and children
- A target date to return home, if that is the goal
- A back-up action plan, if the child cannot return home. Action plans promote the best interests of the child and include various services to assist the family
Issues that cannot be resolved will be returned to Court for resolution.
Participants vary based on the issues:
- Birth parents and social workers are primary participants, as are children when recommended.
- Foster or adoptive parents and other relatives may also participate.
- Attorneys may be present as observers and to approve of any agreement before it is signed.
About the Pre-Hearing Contempt Conference Process
The process is outlined below.
- Pre-Hearing Contempt Conference Scheduled 25 to 30 Days After Filing
All Petitions for Contempt of child access issues in domestic cases will be given a date for a mandatory, Pre-Hearing Contempt Conference, approximately 25 to 30 days after filing.
- Pre-Hearing Contempt Conference Held
The no-cost, Pre-Hearing Contempt Conference on child access issues will be held in the Office of Family Mediation, during which a mediator will attempt to resolve the dispute. Attendance for concerned parties is mandatory.
- Mediator Drafts a Parenting Agreement
If the issue is resolved at the Pre-Hearing Conference, a parenting agreement will be drafted and sent to all parties and attorneys. A hearing will not be scheduled.
If the parties subsequently cannot agree upon a Consent Order and a hearing becomes necessary, the moving party's attorney must notify the Civil Assignment Office in writing that a hearing is needed. If all issues are not settled or if the mediator rescinds mediation, a contempt hearing before a Family Magistrate will be scheduled approximately 20 days after the conference.
- Attorneys Convert the Agreement for the Court
It is the attorneys' responsibility to convert the Parenting Agreement into a document approved by the Court.
- Judge Signs Order, Agreement Becomes Legally Binding
Once a judge signs an Order, the agreement is legally binding. Mediated agreements may be more flexible than court-ordered solutions because they can be changed by mutual agreement as the needs of the families and children change over time. Any change to an agreement previously approved by a judge must be filed with the Court in order to be legally binding.
- Changes Must Be Filed With the Court
Any change to an agreement previously approved by a judge must be filed with the Court in order to be legally binding.