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. As you begin the divorce process, it is important to be aware of which dispute resolution services are offered, as they can potentially improve your overall divorce process and outcome. Certain dispute resolution services have the potential to 1) allow you and your ex to decide the outcome of your case, rather than the Court, 2) avoid litigation, and 3) reduce the overall costs and time required to complete your case. The Warren County Domestic Relations Court currently offers the following four services:
- Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)
- Psychological or Psychiatric Examinations
- Guardian ad litem (GAL)
Generally, these services can be ordered or requested at any point in the process, including before or after a divorce, as parenting, property, or support 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. Currently, ENE is the only service offered that can address property and support issues, while the rest are reserved for parenting matters.
Mediation & Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE):
In the Warren County Domestic Relations Court, both mediation and Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) are designed to facilitate a settlement, meaning you can negotiate the terms of your case without the Court deciding for you. It also means your case can potentially be completed much sooner than through the litigation process. They are both confidential processes, and the Court staff who participate would not testify or be a hearing officer at any future hearing. There is no additional cost for mediation and ENE services provided by the Court.
Mediation occurs between the parties and a Magistrate who is a trained mediator. This Magistrate would not be a hearing officer in your case. Attorneys and/or support persons may also attend if advance notice is provided. Any agreements reached in mediation do not become binding until submitted to and accepted by the Court in the appropriate format, such as a Shared Parenting Plan or Agreed Entry. Parties may engage in as many sessions as needed, so long as the mediator agrees that additional sessions are productive.
Local Rule 5.3(A) defines the Court’s ENE service as, “a Court ordered dispute resolution process in which the Early Neutral Evaluator provides an evaluation of the probable outcome of any parenting, property or support dispute.” Unlike mediation, ENE can be used to address any parenting, property, or support issues. The ENE process involves the parties, their attorneys (if represented), and the Evaluator, currently Magistrate Iversen. The Evaluator involved in your ENE session would not be a hearing officer in your case. Parties are first required to complete and submit a brief one week prior to the session, which gives the Evaluator an overview of what each party is seeking and why. During the ENE session, the parties and their attorneys are each given their own designated time to argue their respective positions, without the constraints and formalities of an actual trial. Once the parties and their attorneys have presented their positions, the Evaluator then provides an evaluation of the probable outcome of the case. Following the evaluation, additional time is built into the session to allow the parties to negotiate based upon the evaluation just received. This opportunity can be extremely productive once the parties have been given a realistic assessment of their case. ENE sessions are scheduled for 3-4 hours, followed by a scheduling conference to notify the hearing officer whether any agreements were reached as a result of ENE.
Psychological/Psychiatric Examinations & Guardians ad Litem (GAL):
Psychological and/or Psychiatric Examinations and Guardians ad litem (GAL) are utilized to assist the Court during a trial to allocate parental rights and responsibilities, including custody and parenting schedules.
If the Court determines that an evaluation of a party is needed before it can properly allocate parental rights and responsibilities, the Court will order a psychological or psychiatric examination, and the appropriate professional will be appointed by the Court. Attorneys are not permitted to communicate with or provide documentation to the professional unless approved by the Court. Once the evaluation is completed, the professional will provide the Court with a written report and recommendations at least 30 days prior to the hearing. The report is also provided to the attorneys, or the parties directly. The report is accepted into evidence as direct testimony, and the professional is considered to be the Court’s witness. If either party wishes to cross-examine the professional, they must facilitate the professional’s appearance at their hearing, and be responsible for any fees associated with their appearance. The Court will allocate the costs of the evaluation between the parties.
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of your child(ren). A GAL is often a family law attorney (although not a requirement), who has satisfied specific training requirements set forth by the Supreme Court of Ohio. A GAL will visit your respective homes and speak with the family members individually and any third parties as needed or requested by the parents (teachers, doctors, friends, etc.). A GAL may be appointed upon request of either party or by the Court on its own. 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, at least fourteen days prior to the hearing. A GAL report is accepted as direct evidence. If either party wishes to question the GAL at the hearing, they must subpoena the GAL and will be responsible for their fees related to their attendance. Absent a subpoena, a GAL will not attend the hearing. While other counties determine a standard rate for their GALs, GAL’s in Warren County are permitted to set their own reasonable rate, which ranges generally from $100 to $200 per hour. Absent extraordinary circumstances, total GAL fees are typically expected to be around $1,500 excluding any Court appearances.
If you would like to learn more about these services and procedures, please visit:
- 5 Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)
- 6 Psychological or Psychiatric Examinations
- 2 Mediation
- 5.3 Early Neutral Evaluation