When most people think about court, they immediately picture a courtroom trial. While this is certainly an important function of any court, it is not the only avenue to resolution, and certainly not always the best route.
People come to the Delaware County Domestic Relations Court looking for resolutions to extremely personal, and often emotional issues. We handle cases involving divorce, dissolution, spousal support, paternity, custody of children, parenting time, and child support. These types of cases often mean life-changing results for those involved, and sometimes, a trial isn’t the best way to go.
What do I mean by life-changing? Well, people filing for divorce may be wondering if they will be able to continue living in their home. They may be worried about paying for items their child needs or how much child support they will pay or receive. Will they be able to make their next car payment? Will they be paying or receiving spousal support? In addition to financial concerns, parties are often worried about the ongoing care for their child. Common concerns include when, and how much time, they will spend with their child, whether or not they will be able to attend their child’s next doctor appointment or parent teacher conference, what school their child will attend, and how they will get along with their child’s other parent, etc. Not only are these types of issues life-changing in nature, but they can cause extreme anxiety, stress, and emotional turmoil.
In some cases, going to trial might be the best way for the family to move forward, but it is certainly not the only option, and not always the best option. Trials are an adversarial proceeding and often result in both sides trying to bring up the worst possible information about the other person. The process of preparing and conducting a trial further entrenches the parties in conflict and requires significant time and expense. Plus, trials distract parents from quality parenting, and do not usually help the parties work better together in the future.
So, if not a trial, what is available to help families move forward? The answer is dispute resolution. This process gives people an opportunity to resolve their issues without further damage to their relationships or further disruption to their lives. Dispute resolution is unique in that it is not a one-size-fits-all process. There are different types to best serve each family and their set of circumstances.
Settlement Conference is a common form of dispute resolution where a magistrate or judge brings the attorneys and the parties together to discuss the issues in the case. Another option is Mediation. During this process parties meet with a neutral mediator who facilitates negotiations and agreements. Neutral Evaluation is a third possibility that brings both sides to a two-person panel that hears them out, and gives likely outcomes if a trial was to be held. Neutral Evaluation gives both parties more information from which to make agreements. Lastly, Co-parent Coaching is a process that gives parents an opportunity to identify their most important goals, improve communication, and discover how they can work better together.
Why are these alternative forms of dispute resolution better than going to trial in many cases? Well, these avenues provide a way for parties to discuss relevant issues with professionals in a less formal, structured environment. Parties are able to talk about the issues, negotiate and compromise for the best interest of the child and themselves. Most importantly, outcomes achieved through dispute resolution are created by active participation from both sides, so they maintain control of their own outcomes.
All the dispute resolution processes create a space where families in conflict can come together and work things out. Dispute resolution, though difficult, empowers people to create unique solutions for their unique case. When this happens, people are more invested in agreements because they created them for themselves. That is very important for families as they move forward. Not only do these agreements tend to be more effective and enduring in the present, but having gone through the process helps families navigate future issues. The result is better functioning families that can resolve disputes themselves, thus relying less on court intervention.
The Delaware County Domestic Relations Court will always be there to work with families, to help them achieve the best outcomes. We recognize each case is different. We know the issues involved are very important. We understand the emotional toll these cases can take, and it’s our goal to help each person through, what may be, one of the most challenging times of their life. The different types of dispute resolution empower families to resolve current and future disagreements and are excellent opportunities to serve the best interests of our families — especially the children.
Randall D. Fuller is judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Fuller is a life-long resident of Delaware County.