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    Family Relations

    The Family Relations Department provides services to litigating parties in order to help resolve issues of conflict during the pre and post-decree stage of the litigation at the Judges'/Magistrates' discretion. The department provides mediation services, guardian ad litem appointments, parenting-time investigations, home studies, including home studies at the request of out-of-the-area courts or agencies. The Family Relations Department also provides professional counseling intervention in parenting disputes through parenting facilitation services. Upon request of attorneys or parties, a list of outside guardian ad litem, psychologists, and mediators will be provided. Some of the department's counselors/mediators work in unison with Magistrates to co-facilitate settlement hearings on post-decree parenting issues. 
     
    Summarized below is information regarding the services provided by the Family Relations Department to divorcing parties in the process of a divorce and parties already divorced who have a motion before the court. 
     
    MEDIATION:
     
    Mediation services are available as an alternative to litigation in resolving visitation, custody, and shared parenting issues. All pre-decree divorces with custody disputes will be screened for mediation services. Both parties must agree to mediate the issues or the mediation cannot proceed. Mediation is available for pre and post-decree domestic relations cases concerning the areas of parental responsibility (custody), time sharing arrangement (companionship), and other parenting issues. The mediator assists the couple in identifying issues, developing options, encouraging problem solving, and helping the couple make responsible decisions in the best interests of the children. The mediation process is confidential, therefore, the mediator may not be subpoenaed into court. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, a "Parenting Agreement" is prepared, and signed by the parties, which, in turn, is given to the parents, sent to the court, and attorneys of record. A mediation outcome form with several options will be marked and sent to all parties and the court. For further information on mediation, click here Mediation Brochure.. 
     
    GUARDIAN AD LITEM:
     
    This service is provided upon a referral from both judges and/or magistrates. An extensive assessment is conducted on all of the family members regarding custody and/or visitation issues. The parents are interviewed individually, a family session is held with both mother, father, and the children. Significant others in the household may also be included. The children are also interviewed individually at the time of the family sessions. A home study is conducted on both homes if it is deemed necessary and appropriate, and the children may be re-interviewed at this time as well. Written and/or telephone contact is made with other agencies involved with the family, such as schools, doctors, counselors, police agencies, and references. A report with recommendations in regard to custody and/or visitation is mailed to the attorneys of record seven to ten days prior to the hearing date. If the attorneys have the expectation that they will need the Guardian ad Litem to testify at the hearing, the counselor must be subpoenaed. 
     
    PARENTING TIME INVESTIGATIONS:
     
    This service is provided on a referral from the judges or magistrates concerning visitation issues. Parents and children are interviewed and provide their input in regard to their feelings about the parenting time issues. Information may be gathered by using collateral community contacts. A report will be mailed to the attorneys of record seven to ten days prior to the hearing, which included observations of the parents and children together, with specific recommendations for parenting time arrangements. 
     
    HOME STUDY INVESTIGATIONS:
     
    This service is provided on a referral from the judges and magistrates requesting a home visit on the parties' home. The home study assesses the home for visitation and/or custody purposes. The home should meet community standards for cleanliness and floor space. The home visit is normally scheduled with the parties in advance. 
     
    PARENTING TIME FACILITATION:
     
    This service is provided on a referral from the judges or magistrates in order to facilitate and implement the court-ordered parenting time schedule. All parties needed to implement the parenting time schedule will be interviewed. Many different methods are used by the Family Relations Department to assist the parties in working out viable parenting time schedules. 
     
    SETTLEMENT HEARINGS:
     
    The Settlement Hearing is a process in which individuals work out a mutual agreement on issues that are creating conflict for them with the aid of a Court Magistrate, a Court Mediator, and the parties' counsel if so desired. The Settlement Hearing facilitates joint agreements on the issue of time arrangement (visitation), and other parenting issues. The Settlement Hearing is not a counseling process. It is an arena in which parents take the opportunity to discuss and resolve the needs of the restructured family. 
     
    If you would like additional information, contact the department at (937) 225-4191.