Divorcing with Children in Hamilton County — What to Expect from the Court’s Dispute Resolution Department

Divorcing with Children in Hamilton County — What to Expect from the Court’s Dispute Resolution Department

While courts in Ohio operate under the same statutes, each county’s Domestic Relations Court differs greatly in the “dispute resolution” services offered, and the procedures for each service. Dispute resolution services have the potential to help your case be resolved by agreement, without the substantial time and costs associated with litigation. It is important to understand early on which dispute resolution services are available as they can dramatically alter the course of your divorce. In Hamilton County, the Domestic Relations Court will often encourage, if not require, that you participate in at least one of their dispute resolution services before allowing a case to go to trial when parenting is at issue. Of the nearby Ohio counties, the Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court currently offers the most dispute resolution services, those services are as follows:

  1. Mediation
  2. Neutral Evaluation (NE or ENE)
  3. Custody Investigation
  4. Guardian ad litem (GAL)
  5. Parenting Coordination (PC)

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 these services offered are designed to help families, each service differs greatly in the role it plays in the court process.

If you would like to learn more about these services and procedures, please visit:

  1. https://www.hamiltoncountyohio.gov/government/courts/court_of_domestic_relations/dispute_resolution
  2. https://www.hamiltoncountyohio.gov/government/courts/court_of_domestic_relations/local_rules

Mediation & (Early) Neutral Evaluation in Hamilton County, Ohio:

Generally, mediation and Neutral Evaluation (NE or ENE) are designed solely to facilitate a settlement. They are both confidential processes, and the Court staff who participate do not testify at your hearing.

Mediation involves the parties and a Court Social Worker/Counselor who is a trained mediator. Attorneys and/or support persons may also attend mediation, but notice should be provided in advance. If an agreement is reached, the mediator will prepare a written document summarizing the agreements reached, which is then provided to the parties and/or their attorneys. The Magistrate and/or Judge assigned to your case does not receive a copy of this agreement. The mediation agreement is then used to prepare the appropriate Court document, such as a Shared Parenting Plan or an Agreed Entry, which is then submitted to the Court for approval. It is the parties’ and/or their attorneys’ responsibility to prepare this document.

Most often, parties participate in 1-3 mediation sessions, which generally last approximately 2 hours each.  Pre-decree mediation is free to the parties in Hamilton County. Parties may engage in as many sessions as needed, so long as the mediator agrees that additional sessions are productive. Post-decree mediation is a one-time fee of $150, which also includes as many sessions as the mediator deems productive.

Neutral Evaluation (NE or ENE) can be thought of as a hybrid between mediation and a mock trial. The Neutral Evaluation (NE or ENE) process is a single session, lasting approximately 2-3 hours, involving the parties, their attorneys (if represented), a Magistrate, and a Court Social Worker/Counselor (or 2 Magistrates for Financial Neutral Evaluation). The Magistrate involved in your Neutral Evaluation session would not be a hearing officer in your case at any point. Parenting Perspective Briefs are completed by the parties ahead of time (provided by the Court), allowing each party to explain in writing their respective issues and positions. Both parties and their attorneys (if applicable) explain what they are seeking and describe the evidence that supports their positions.  The Evaluators then provide an oral assessment of their respective positions and their predictions of the outcome of the case if it went to trial and the parties are able to prove the positions as they were presented during NE. Additional time is built in to allow the parties to discuss settlement options, considering the feedback received. Neutral Evaluation (NE or ENE) has a one-time fee of $200. Neutral Evaluation (NE or ENE) is the only service offered that can be used to address financial disputes.

If you would like to learn more about mediation services, please visit:

Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court’s Approved Community-Based Mediators: https://www.hamiltoncountyohio.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3788196/File/Government/Courts/Court%20of%20Domestic%20Relations/Dispute%20Resolution/Approved%20Mediators/22-9%20Hamilton%20County%20Approved%20Mediators.pdf


Custody Investigations & Guardians ad Litem in Hamilton County, Ohio

Custody investigations and Guardians ad litem (GAL) exist more as a tool to assist the Court in making its decisions, although they can both be extremely helpful in facilitating agreements. Custody Investigators and Guardians ad litem are responsible for making recommendations to the Court regarding primarily custody and parenting schedules, but may include additional recommendations such as communication provisions, school placement, medical decision-making, extracurriculars, and any other issues that are raised by the parents or children during the investigation.

A GAL is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of your child(ren). A GAL will visit the parties’ respective homes and speak with the family members individually and third parties, as needed (attorneys, teachers, doctors, therapists, friends, etc.). A Custody Investigator is a Court Social Worker who investigates the family through a series of meetings at the Court (or via Zoom/telephone) and information-gathering. They will also speak to third parties who the parties or Custody Investigators determine, as needed to assist in their final report.

Both services result in a final, written report, which contain recommendations that the Court considers, in conjunction with a formal trial, when issuing its Decision. These reports can also be extremely helpful in facilitating a settlement, allowing parties to potentially avoid a trial altogether. Custody Investigators may testify at your hearing about the details of their investigation, so long as they are subpoenaed by the requesting party, pursuant to Local Rule 2.3.  Pursuant to Local Rule 10, a GAL must testify at the hearing for their report to be included as evidence, unless otherwise agreed. Both Custody Investigators and Guardians ad litem may be subjected to cross examination.

Custody Investigations have a one-time fee of $800 for a Full Investigation, and $400 for a Brief Focused Investigation for limited issues. There is no additional cost if the Custody Investigator is subpoenaed to testify in the hearing. Guardians ad litem are paid $175 per hour for all in-court and out-of-court time spent on the case, unless otherwise agreed or ordered.


Parenting Coordination in Hamilton County, Ohio:

Parenting Coordination can best be described as a hybrid of the above services. It can be ordered or requested by the Court before a trial, or as part of the Court’s final Decision. For example, parties may be ordered to utilize a Parenting Coordinator to reach an agreement prior to having a trial. Alternatively, parties may be ordered in the final Decision to work with a Parenting Coordinator for a specified period. A Parenting Coordinator works directly with parents to help resolve complex and/or high-conflict parenting issues. Pursuant to Local Rule 2.11, if an agreement cannot be reached, a Parenting Coordinator can issue a written decision that is effective immediately and remains effective until further order of the Court. Parenting Coordinators are paid $175 per hour for their time spent on the case, unless otherwise agreed or ordered.

If you would like to learn more about these services and procedures, please visit:

Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court’s Approved Parenting Coordinator Roster: