A special week devoted to resolving court cases and lessening caseloads is a tool that more Ohio courts are learning about and that can have big benefits for the public.
Court-designated settlement weeks use mediation to give people the opportunity to settle disputes for less time and money. It’s a chance for people to work through issues in their cases with a professional mediator instead of having a case go to trial. The mediation process also frees up judges, magistrates, and court staff for more complex cases.
After seeing settlement week work in other civil cases, Delaware County Domestic Relations Judge Randall Fuller saw the potential for the program in divorce proceedings. He instituted the initiative in his court to help parties resolve parenting plan disagreements, as well as disputes over money or property.
“We were the only domestic relations court in the state when we decided to try a settlement week years ago,” said Judge Fuller. “We knew it was a success when we saw how many cases were reaching a full agreement.”
Judge Fuller and Delaware County court administrator Larry McQuain recently shared what they’ve experienced through 10 settlement weeks as part of an online roundtable. They walked Ohio judges, magistrates, and court administrators through the process of establishing a settlement week and the responsibilities of a court, the mediators, and attorneys.
Judges, magistrates, and lawyers identify cases they feel can be resolved through mediation. The court then schedules the case and connects the litigants with an experienced mediator, who in Judge Fuller’s court, works at a reduced fee during the settlement week program. Mediation takes place in person or by videoconference. If the parties reach an agreement, it’s presented to the court for approval, which resolves the case.
“One of the goals of this roundtable is so that other courts don’t have to start from scratch the way we did. Judges can simply customize for themselves, based on how we do things and the forms we use to the needs of their court,” said McQuain.
“Courts are the ultimate arbiter of conflict by conducting trials. But other forms of dispute resolution, like settlement week, allow people to maintain control over their case, and more importantly, their lives,” said Judge Fuller.
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First published by the Association For Conflict Resolution's Commercial Mediation Section. With the increased need for effective conflict resolution throughout the world, we have seen many international programs and non-profit...By Nina Meierding