For most people, the prospect of going to court is unpleasant, perhaps even frightening. Family court hearings, especially with emotionally-charged issues such as custody, child support, and visitation, can be a miserable experience. Experts seeking ways to eliminate the adversarial "win/lose" atmosphere of traditional court proceedings have long advocated the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods such as mediation to help parties settle their differences.
For several years, the Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court has offered referrals to mediation as an option for people going through parenting disputes before and after divorce. Because of the success that was experienced, the Court has made mediation mandatory for pre and post divorce custody and visitation disputes unless special circumstances such as domestic violence, mental health problems or chemical dependency make mediation inappropriate.
At an initial status hearing on a post divorce motion, the Court will review the issues in dispute and refer the parties to a list of certified mediators from whom they may choose. The progress of mediation is monitored by the Family Services Department.
All the Mediators on the Court's panel agree to be paid in accordance with a sliding fee scale.
All issues with the exception of child support are then placed on hold for 60 days while the mediation proceeds. A hearing to review the status of mediation is then scheduled.
In an informal atmosphere, mediators assist the parties in identifying the problem and associated emotional effects. They assist in identifying interest and generate possible alternatives to the resolution of their dispute leading towards the development of a memorandum of understanding. A memorandum of understanding is a written agreement shared with counsel who then incorporate it into an agreed order signed by a magistrate, the parties, and their attorneys, if applicable.
For additional information about the mediation services/settlement conference program, please call the Court's Family Services Department at 330-740-2208.
Guardian Ad Litems
If Mediation is not successful, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the child or children who are the subject of the parenting dispute. Most of the Guardian ad Litems appointed by the Court are attorneys with extensive experience in the Family Law area. In accordance with guidelines established by the Court, the Guardian will typically meet with the parties, speak with the children, make home visits, secure school medical records, review police reports and investigate allegations made by the parties that will assist the Guardian in making recommendations to the Court as to what actions would be in the best interests of the child. The Guardian will make a written report to the Court and be available for testimony at hearings.
The parties will normally be required to deposit the sum of at least $250.00 each within fourteen (14) days with the Clerk of Courts to be applied to the Guardian's Fee. Failure to timely make the deposit may result in a citation for contempt.
Where parenting is in dispute, and/or where Mediation is not successful, the Court will schedule a Settlement Conference approximately 30 days prior to the final scheduled hearing. At the Conference, the Guardian ad Litem is present and the report is reviewed. By definition, the purpose of the Settlement Conference is to see if, in light of the Guardian's investigation and report, a settlement can be reached by the parties. If a settlement is reached, the Court will assist the parties and counsel in reducing that agreement into an Agreed Judgment Entry signed by all parties. If no agreement is reached, the parties will be reminded that the case will go forward for final hearing as scheduled.
Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court
120 Market St.