Dispute Resolution Department

The Dispute Resolution Department assists parties in achieving less acrimonious and quicker resolution of their disputes through the use of processes designed to be used outside the courtroom.  Litigation can be emotionally and financially draining on families, so the Court is committed to providing less expensive and less harmful alternatives. The Dispute Resolution Department offers numerous services that allow the parties greater participation, greater self-determination and greater control of their case.

The Dispute Resolution Department offers a variety of services across a broad spectrum so that the Department can be responsive to the needs of the parties and the nature of the dispute.

Spectrum

  • Mediation: a confidential process in which a neutral third party facilitates negotiation between the parties to assist them in reaching a voluntary agreement. The parties have the opportunity to discuss the issues and their interests and then explore ideas for the resolution of the dispute. The mediator guides the conversation but does not have the power to make any decisions for the parties.
  • Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE): a confidential process in which the parties are referred to a team of evaluators, who are asked to provide a balanced and unbiased evaluation of the dispute after hearing the case background from the parties and their attorneys. The experts identify each party’s strengths and weaknesses and then provide an evaluation of the likely outcome if the case proceeds to trial. This evaluation can assist parties in assessing their case and may propel them towards settlement. For parenting ENE, the team is comprised of a Court Magistrate and  Court Social Worker/Counselor. For financial ENE, the team is comprised of two Court Magistrates.
  • Parenting Coordination (PC): a process in which a mental health or legal professional assists high conflict parents with implementing their parenting plan by mediating the resolution of their disputes in a timely manner, educating them about their children’s needs and, when necessary, making decisions for the family within the scope of the court order.
  • Investigation: a process in which a Court Social Worker/Counselor assesses a divorcing family and the effects that custody and parenting time arrangements will have on the children. After interviewing the family members and collecting information from those involved, the Social Worker/Counselor writes a report for the Court with recommendations regarding the course that the Social Worker/Counselor believes is best for the children. The Social Worker/Counselor may be called as a witness during trial.

The Dispute Resolution Department also provides educational opportunities for parents and their children. Because continued conflict between parents is a risk factor for a variety of child problems, including poor emotional adjustment, low self-esteem and behavioral problems, the Court is invested in helping parents learn about the impact of parental conflict on their children, as well as specific skills for co-parenting, communication, and conflict resolution.  

Click on the following link to view the Dispute Resolution Department in the news.

Local 12: “New dispute resolution unit first in state” (12/8/2015)




Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)

The Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, is pleased to announce the beginning of the Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) Project. ENE is a short-term, confidential process that requires both parents and their attorneys, if applicable, to attend a session at the Court led by a Magistrate and a court-employed Social Worker or Counselor.  After brief case presentations and information gathering, these experienced professionals share their evaluative impressions of the case and assist the parents in exploring possible solutions to the current dispute.  The process is not mediation, but is less formal than litigation.  Sessions generally last 2 – 3 hours, and the fee is $200.

If you have a case that you believe would benefit from the ENE process, please contact Services Facilitator Katie Porter at 513-946-9072 or cdrENE@cms.hamilton-co.org .

What opportunities are presented by the use of ENE?

Parents will explore prospects for settlement, and thereby potentially reduce costs and expedite disposition.  Parents and their children may also avoid the stress associated with parenting investigations and litigation, which are time-consuming and have a long-standing negative impact on families experiencing divorce.

Who are the Evaluators?

The team consists of a Magistrate and a Master’s level Social Worker or Counselor.  Both Evaluators have extensive experience managing parenting disputes and have been trained as family law mediators.  One team member will be male and one will be female.

What happens prior to the Session?

Each party or attorney will submit a copy of the Parenting Perspective Brief to the Dispute Resolution Department (Room 3-001; e-mail to: cdrENE@cms.hamilton-co.org; or fax 513-946-9077) and to the other party or attorney a minimum of seven days before the scheduled ENE session.  Fines will be assessed for late submissions or failure to submit.  The Parenting Perspective Brief will not be filed with the Clerk of Court or placed in the Court’s family file.  It will be shredded upon completion of the ENE process.  The Parenting Perspective Brief is designed to give the Evaluators an overview of the current situation, and therefore, requests information about living environments, parenting styles, work schedules, extracurricular activities, past decision-making, goals, etc.  The format for the Brief is available on the Court’s website.

The parties and their attorneys will report to the Dispute Resolution Center in Room 3-001 at 800 Broadway on the scheduled date and prior to the time for the ENE session.  No other person should attend unless written approval is obtained in advance.  Sessions cannot be rescheduled unless a Motion is filed with the Court and good cause is shown.  

What happens during the session?

The Evaluators will oversee the discussion to allow each parent and attorney the opportunity to be heard in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.  First, the Evaluators will fully explain the ENE process and the ground rules.  Then, each parent will have an opportunity to explain what disputes are at issue and his/her perspective on the best parenting arrangements for the child(ren).  The attorneys will be available to remind their clients of important information and to help them maintain focus.  The attorneys will also be afforded a brief opportunity to supplement the presentations.  The Evaluators will ask questions of each parent in an effort to solicit sufficient relevant information, and will then meet privately to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each parent’s position.  Subsequently, they will provide an evaluation of the probable outcome of the case if the matter was presented during trial.  Settlement possibilities will be discussed and areas needing further inquiry may be identified.  Parents may meet privately with their attorneys to discuss options.  The Evaluators may schedule another ENE session if additional information or collateral data is needed, or if they decide to interview the child(ren) or other parties.

What happens after the session?

If a full or partial settlement is reached, the Evaluators will require that the agreement be reduced to written form and submitted to the assigned Judge or Magistrate on a future date.  The matter may be referred to mediation if certain details need to be resolved to reach a full settlement.

If no settlement is reached, the Evaluators will notify the assigned Judge or Magistrate and recommend the next step.  Most likely, the case will be ordered to an investigation and any additional assessments.  The Evaluators will not be permitted to participate any further in the case and they will not be available to testify during litigation.

Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) Forms

To download any of the forms, select from the column "Form No.".Dot" for Microsoft Template document. Windows dialogue box [ File Download ] will appear, select "Save" option and save the Document to the directory location containing court forms on your P.C. hard drive.


Dispute Resolution Department (Room 3-001; e-mail to: cdrENE@cms.hamilton-co.org   ;  or fax 513-946-9077)

Click here for ENE Documents

Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)

Who is a Guardian ad Litem?
 
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a court-appointed attorney who assists the Court in its determination of a child’s best interest. A GAL does not necessarily represent a child’s wishes. Instead, a GAL represents to the Court what is best for the child.

What does a Guardian ad Litem do?
 
The GAL will become informed about the facts of the case, review pertinent records, and contact relevant parties, including interviewing the child and observing the child with each parent, foster parent, guardian or physical custodian.

The GAL will then make an informed recommendation to the Court through a written final report. The report will detail the activities performed, hearings attended, persons interviewed, documents reviewed, experts consulted and all other relevant information considered by the GAL in reaching the GAL’s recommendations. The GAL may be called upon to testify. The parties may then cross-examine the GAL during trial concerning the contents of the GAL’s report and the basis of the GAL’s recommendations.

What are the qualifications of a Guardian ad Litem?

To be included on the Court’s Appointment List, a GAL must be an attorney admitted to practice in Ohio who is a member in good standing with the Ohio Bar, and who, in the last two years, has devoted at least fifty percent (50%) of his/her practice to the area of domestic relations and/or juvenile law. In addition, the GAL must have completed the Supreme Court of Ohio six-hour GAL pre-service course.

How do I get a GAL on my case? The Court may appoint a GAL to a case on its own or upon written motion from one or both parties.


 Click here for Local Rule Title X: Guardians ad Litem 

 

Investigation

Full Investigation

When parents are unable to agree on the custody arrangement for their children, and at least one of the children is under 10 years of age, the Judge or Magistrate will most likely order a Full Investigation. This in-depth investigation may also be ordered for other complicated cases not involving custody, particularly if challenging issues, such as mental illness, substance abuse, or child abuse exist. The family situation will be examined during the investigation, and broadly based questions about general family functioning and parenting capacity will be asked during multiple interviews of the parents and children. In addition, other adults living within the home will be interviewed. Collateral information from schools, medical providers, and others in the community will be collected, and a home visit may be conducted. A report, which is completed in approximately four months, will be issued at the conclusion of the investigation. The Social Worker/Counselor who conducted the investigation may be called as a witness during trial. The cost is $800 for this service. 

 

Brief Focused Investigation

When parents are unable to agree on the custody arrangement for their children, and the children in question are over 10 years of age, the Judge or Magistrate will most likely order a Brief Focused Investigation. This shorter investigation may also be ordered for other cases with narrowly defined issues that are limited in scope. This type of localized inquiry will often be used to examine potential relocations, parenting time disputes, and shared parenting plan modifications. Both parents will be interviewed, and the children may be interviewed at the discretion of the Judge, Magistrate or Social Worker/Counselor.  Essential collateral information may be gathered. A report, which is completed in approximately six weeks, will be issued at the conclusion of the investigation. The Social Worker/Counselor who conducted the investigation may be called as a witness during trial. The cost is $400 for this service. 

 

Conciliation

Either party to a divorce, annulment, or legal separation may file a motion for conciliation.  If granted the parties may be referred to the Dispute Resolution Department to schedule a session to discuss the decision to divorce. A one-time session is conducted with a court Social Worker/Counselor and both parties. The parties are afforded an opportunity to address their concerns about the decision to divorce, and explore whether the divorce can be avoided. If the parties are mutually interested, a referral to community-based counseling may be made if reconciliation is an option. A report is generated summarizing the session.  The cost is $150 for this service.


Intake

A Social Worker/Counselor is available to assist parents who are having difficulty with their custody and/or parenting time arrangements. Either parent may contact the Dispute Resolution Department to address concerns about the children.  A protocol is in place to assist the parents and to engage both parents in the process.  The parents may be seen in-person if this is deemed necessary and both parents agree to be seen. The process is voluntary, being designed to clarify court-ordered schedules, resolve conflicts and address concerns within the context of the existing court orders. There may be a fee assessed if further departmental services are necessary to resolve the concerns.

Mediation

Pre-Decree Mediation

It is commonly known that a major problem for children of divorce is continued conflict between the parents over the custody and visitation of the children.  The Court recognizes that if parents can mediate their conflicts and arrive at agreements about the children’s care, the damage to the children should be lessened.  EIM is a mandatory program, requiring parents with custody disputes to attend mediation. The mediation is to occur early in the divorce process prior to parents getting locked into positions that can extend the conflicts and cause extensive Court involvement. There is no cost to parents for this program.

 

Post-Decree Mediation

Because of the success of the EIM(Early Intervention Mediation) program, the Court has expanded its mediation services to include the mediation of custody and visitation disputes generated when a parent requests the end of, or change to, a shared parenting custody arrangement. Parents may choose a court mediator, who is an employee of the court and who mediates at Domestic Relations Court, or may choose a community-based mediator from the court's list of approved mediators. The fee for post-decree mediation using a court mediator is $150, regardless of the number of sessions required. Fees for community-based mediators are determined by the selected mediator.

Financial Mediation

TBD Financial Mediation

Approved Community Mediators

Hamilton County Approved Mediators (PDF)

Parenting Coordination (PC)

What is Parenting Coordination?

Parenting Coordination is a child-focused dispute resolution process where an impartial third person called a Parenting Coordinator (PC), whom the Court appoints, helps parties implement their parenting order using assessment, education, case management, conflict management, coaching, and decision-making. Parenting Coordination is for parents who remain in constant conflict and continue to rely on the Court to resolve their differences. The Parenting Coordinator (PC) is not an investigator, evaluator, mediator, therapist, financial advisor, attorney, or guardian ad litem. The PC is a divorce professional who works with parents to minimize conflict between the parents, coordinate parenting issues, and guide the parents in maximizing their parenting abilities. The PC may make decisions for the parents when necessary. The parenting coordination process is not confidential and the PC will submit regular reports to the Court.

How do PCs help families?

Because continued conflict jeopardizes the well-being of children, Parenting Coordinators (PCs) assist in alleviating tension between parents. The PC will use conflict resolution skills to help the parents resolve child related issues. The PC may educate and make recommendations to the parents regarding developmental needs of the children, the effects of parental separation on family members, positive parental communication, and successful co-parenting skills. The PC will monitor compliance with the established parental rights and responsibilities order and assist the parents in effectively facilitating their parenting arrangements. If the parents are unable to reach agreements regarding their dispute, the PC will make decisions within the scope of the court order of appointment. Through the parenting coordination process, many families will benefit from increased harmony and a stronger, more collaborative, family unit. 

What are the qualifications of a PC?


To be included on the Court’s Appointment List, the PC must have a master’s degree or higher, or a law degree, as well as at least two years of professional experience with situations involving children. The PC must have completed an orientation at the Court and specific training at the Supreme Court of Ohio.

How do I get a PC on my case?


The Court may order parenting coordination on its own or upon written motion from one or both parties.

Where can I get more information?

Local Rule 2.11 Parenting Coordination explains the parenting coordination process in further detail.

The parenting coordination rule and forms are available on the Court’s website. You may also contact the Dispute Resolution Department at 513-946-9079 with any questions regarding the parenting coordination process.

Please note, parenting coordination is NOT for cases in which it has been determined that the process may compromise the safety of any party, the minor child, or the PC. In addition, parenting coordination is not the appropriate process for granting or modifying protection orders, or changing the designation of the primary residential parent or the primary placement of a child. 

Click here for Parenting Coordination Forms

Parent Education Options

The court recognizes that the conflict existing in a family as a result of divorce can have a negative impact on children.  In newly filed divorces, legal separations, annulments and dissolutions, per Local Rule 2.9, all parents are required to attend a class to educate parents about the issues their children may encounter as a result of divorce. Parents are responsible for providing to the Court a copy of their certificate of completion as proof of class attendance.

Parents may attend an in-person class at the Court OR parents may complete one of two approved online classes.

The in-person class, Parenting Through Transitions, is offered the first Friday of each month from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the third Monday of each month from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 800 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Training Room. The cost of the class is $35.00 per person. Click the following link to view the in-person class packet: Parenting Through Transitions

  YOU MUST PRE-REGISTER AND PRE-PAY FOR THE CLASS

AT LEAST FIVE (5) BUSINESS DAYS IN ADVANCE

    Click here for the Registration Form and additional information. 
    Haga clic aquí para obtener la versión en español del Formulario de Registro e información adicional.

           Forms may be submitted:

  • In-person at the Dispute Resolution Department, Room 3-001
  • Mail the registration form to:
      Dispute Resolution Department
      800 Broadway,Room 3-001
      Cincinnati, OH 45202
  • Fax to (513) 946-9077
  • Email to DRD@cms.hamilton-co.org  

Payments will be accepted at the Clerk of Courts, Room 3-47,
800 Broadway or via telephone at (513) 946-9150. (Additional fee applies if using a credit card).

If you believe you are eligible for a fee waiver and have filed a poverty affidavit, please submit a copy of your poverty affidavit with your registration form.

For Online Classes:

YOU MUST USE THESE SPECIFIC LINKS!

"Children in Between" offered by the Center for Divorce Education
ONLINE-Children in Between
https://online.divorce-education.com/locale/ohio/hamilton               ($39.95)
EN LINEA-Niños en Medio (Spanish)
https://online.divorce-education.com/locale/ohio/hamilton/es           ($39.95)

    OR

"Two Families Now: Effective Parenting Through Separation and Divorce"
ONLINE-Two Families Now
http://www.twofamiliesnow.com/?affiliate=hamilton                        ($49.00)
EN LINEA-Ahora Somos Dos Familias (Spanish)
https://www.ahorasomosdosfamilias.com/?affiliate=hamilton             ($49.00)


Registration instructions and payment information, including how to obtain a fee waiver if you believe you are eligible, are available on each online class provider’s website.

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