While courts in Ohio operate under the same statutes, each county’s Domestic Relations Court differs greatly in the services offered outside of litigation, and the procedures for each service. Because these services have the potential to drastically improve the overall time, cost, and outcome of your case, it is crucial that you hire an attorney who is familiar with and knowledgeable of the services offered. The Clermont County Domestic Relations Court currently offers the following services to assist families in the divorce and post-decree process:
- Family Service Assessment
- Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)
- Guardian ad litem (GAL)
- Parental Investigation
Generally, these services can be ordered or requested at any point in the process, including before or after a divorce, as parenting issues arise. While all of these services offered are designed to help litigants, each service differs greatly in the role it plays in the court process.
Family Service Assessment
Depending on the information provided in the initial filings, your case may start with a Family Service Assessment with the Court’s Parenting Investigator. The Assessment takes place over the phone and allows each party the opportunity to express their wishes and concerns to the Investigator. Within seven days of the phone call, parties will receive a written, nonbinding recommendation regarding which of the offered services would benefit the parties based on their specific circumstances. At the initial pretrial, after receiving feedback from the parties (and/or their attorneys), the Court will determine whether to order any of the recommended services.
Mediation & Early Neutral Evaluation:
In the Clermont County Domestic Relations Court, both mediation and Early Neutral Evaluation are designed to facilitate a settlement between the parties. They are both confidential processes, and the Court staff who participate do not testify at your hearing. There is no additional cost for mediation or ENE services provided by the Court.
Mediation occurs between the parties and a Mediator with the purpose of reaching an agreement on parenting matters, such as custody, parenting schedule, holidays, travel, decision-making, religion, medical issues, schooling, extracurricular activities, expenses, etc. Mediation allows parents to be collaborative, creative, and flexible when discussing important parenting matters. It also ensures that parents, not the Court, are the decision-makers during your family transition. Attorneys and/or support persons may attend a mediation session if advance notice is provided and all parties agree. Any agreements reached in mediation do not become binding until submitted to and accepted by the Court. Mediation sessions generally last 2 hours, and parties participate in 1-3 sessions.
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) is a court-ordered dispute resolution process in which the parents are given a probable outcome of parenting-related litigation after an evaluation of their case. ENE can be especially helpful when one or both parents need a “dose of reality” regarding their case expectations. Once parents have received a neutral and informed opinion from an outside party, the goal is for parents and their attorneys to engage in more realistic and productive negotiations that ultimately lead to an agreement being reached.
ENE is only available to parties who are represented by an attorney. It consists of a single 3-hour session in which the Evaluators, both parties and their attorneys must participate. Prior to the session, parents must complete and submit a “Parenting Perspective Brief” which is shared with the Evaluators and the other parent. At the ENE session, each party and their attorney are given a designated amount of time to express what they are seeking concerning parenting and why. Once everyone has presented their side, the Evaluators will meet privately to discuss, followed by a discussion with the group to explain the Evaluators’ perceived strengths and weaknesses of each parent’s positions, and an overall prediction of what the outcome would be if the case were litigated. Similar to mediation, any agreements reached are not binding until they are properly documented, signed by the parties, and approved by the Court.
Parental Investigation & Guardians ad Litem:
Parental Investigations and Guardians ad litem are utilized to assist the Court in determining the child(ren)’s best interests when allocating parental rights and responsibilities, including custody and parenting schedules.
The Parental Investigation consists of an evaluation of each parent’s behavior, conduct, communication, family relationships, and criminal and Children’s Protective Services history. The parents are required to complete a parenting questionnaire, participate in an interview, and otherwise cooperate with the investigation. If the investigator feels it is necessary, they may interview the children and/or third parties such as teachers, doctors, or childcare providers. The Parental Investigation results in a final report which contains a recommendation to the Court regarding parenting. The report is admitted as the Court’s exhibit and as direct evidence. If either party wishes to cross-examine the Investigator, the Investigator must be timely subpoenaed by the requesting party. The Parental Investigation process takes approximately ninety days.
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the Court to represent and advocate for the best interests of your child(ren) until the case is closed. A GAL may be appointed upon request of either party or by the Court on its own accord. A GAL is responsible for:
(1) visiting your respective homes,
(2) meeting individually with the children and parents,
(3) speaking with family/household members and any other parties they deem necessary such as, teachers, counselors, doctors, friend,
(4) preparing a written report with recommendations related to custody, parenting schedule, and other parenting matters, and
(5) attending and participating in all hearings related to parenting.
Once a GAL has completed their investigation, a report is submitted to the Court (but not filed with the Court), and served upon the attorneys, or parties, prior to the trial. Oftentimes, parties and/or their attorneys are able to utilize a GAL report to facilitate a settlement. If a settlement is not reached, a GAL will testify on direct at the close of the trial and will be subject to cross-examination by both parties at the conclusion of their testimony.
The GAL deposit is $1,500, paid directly to the GAL either by one parent or split between the parents. From the deposit, the GAL is paid $125 per hour for their billable time plus expenses. The parents may be ordered to pay additional deposits as needed to pay the GAL fees and expenses. The GAL is required to provide a monthly statement of their fees to the parties (or their attorneys).
If you would like to learn more about these services and procedures, please visit:
- DR 26. Medical/Psychological/Psychiatric Evaluations
- DR 28. Family Service Assessment by the Court
- DR 29. Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)
- DR 30. Mediation of Parenting Responsibilities
- DR 31. Early Neutral Evaluation