It seemed unlikely just a month ago that Justin Thomas Andrews would spend Christmas with his 3-year-old son.
The North Charleston father was one of those parents at the mercy of family court — a system that can set the terms of a parent’s relationship with their child at the thump of a gavel. The court encourages parties to go to mediation to reach their own agreement, but private mediators charge costly hourly rates, disadvantaging lower-income parents.
Andrews was in jail this time last year. During a dispute with his son’s mother, he said, he punched his fist through a wall. The outburst landed him six months in local detention centers. The 36-year-old construction manager resurfaced with a protective order against the mother and a judge-ordered $700-per-month child support bill — more than a third of his income. He has seen his 3-year-old only a handful of times in the past year, he said.
But the father says he just received joint custody over his son and will now pay $250 monthly in child support. He called the outcome “a Christmas miracle.”
The unlikely source of Andrews’ joy is a group of local attorneys, who are part of Mediation and Meeting Center of Charleston. The group banded together to help Lowcountry families resolve their legal disputes, both outside of the courtroom and at a low cost.
Three hours of mediation on a December day with MMCC cost Andrews $25, he said.
The Charleston nonprofit brings together people in conflict to understand and resolve differences with the help of a neutral third-party who is certified in mediation.
MMCC was co-founded in 2007 by Charleston attorney Jill HaLevi, who spent her first 10 years in law representing indigent defendants in state and federal court. The attorney and president of the nonprofit said her interest in “making peace through the law” led her to leave criminal court to pursue mediation.
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