Alternatives to Rhode Island Family Court

by Attorney Christopher E. Heberg

Family law disputes such as divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal support are frequently emotional and stressful. When two parties cannot agree, they may believe taking their case to court is the only option. However, litigation is expensive and can be a very lengthy process. Additionally, the courtroom environment empowers the judge to make decisions, which may not be appropriate for either party, instead of allowing the two parties involved to decide what is best.

There are viable alternatives to litigation and these options often allow the parties involved to determine what works best. When filing for a divorce you should consider these effective alternatives.

1. The use a Mediator- Mediation can be a productive way for each party to discuss, debate and decide for themselves the issues that are important to them, including child custody, financial support and property division. A professional mediator must be neutral. Through a series of meetings, the mediator will draft a document outlining what was agreed upon. That document will then be submitted to the court for approval. It is not a legally binding document until approved by a judge. Since a mediator cannot give legal advice, both parties should absolutely consult an attorney to discuss their individual rights and the consequences of certain decisions within the agreement drafted by the mediator. While many people wait until after a mediation to consult their own attorney, you should meet and engage an attorney PRIOR to mediation so you can be fully advised and educated before your mediation. This is my preferred, and I believe most successful, way to resolve cases amicably.

2. Enlisting the help of a parenting coordinator. Child-related disputes are often the most debated issues during and after a divorce. When issues between parents arise, enlisting the help of a parenting coordinator can be beneficial. Like a mediator, a parenting coordinator is a neutral professional that can help with dispute resolution, especially in cases where parents have difficulty communicating and agreeing on matters.

3. Collaborative Law. The collaborative law process involves working with a neutral party and your attorney to settle family law issues. However, at the start of the process both parties must agree not to litigate their case, and both attorneys must agree not to represent their clients in litigation. While this agreement often forces the parties to work together to amicably resolve an issue, it does restrict both persons from litigating even if they feel it is necessary.

Whatever means of resolution you decide, it’s important to understand your options and seek the guidance and advice of an experienced professional such as a mediator, attorney, or parenting coordinator.