Fortunately, if you have a post-decree dispute there are alternatives to court. This can be an opportunity to hit the “reset” button on your relationship with the other party. You can choose not to make it a fight. It can be a particularly important turning point if the issue involves children. You will likely have many challenges as parents well into the future. Learning to manage bumps in the road and resolve issues out of court can greatly improve your life and the lives of your children. Research shows that children suffer long-term effects from prolonged court battles between their parents.
Avoiding the Litigation Merry-Go-Round
Seriously consider how important this is to you. To avoid returning to court you could decide to drop the issue. Remember when you do this analysis to focus on what it means to your child if it is a parenting dispute. If it is important enough to address further, you may be able to settle the issue by agreement, or resolve it through alternative dispute resolution. There are many advantages to settlement. There are a variety of mechanisms and resources to help people to resolve matters without resorting to court. Using the court is appropriate in some situations, but do not be a one option shopper. I have listed some of the resources I think are most valuable below.
Level II Parenting Classes
If the issue has anything to do with parenting time or decision-making, we strongly recommend a Level II Parenting Class. One of our favorites is For the Kids. It is an 11 week Co-Parenting Class & Training for people involved in high conflict co-parenting arrangements. There are many other excellent providers.
Family Systems Therapy
There are counselors who specialize in working with families. You might consider counseling with your ex and/or your children.
When I recommend this to someone the first reaction can be for the parent to feel insulted. I too am a parent and I can relate to that reaction. However, this is much more important than golf or running or soccer (at least for most parents). A coach can give a new perspective or suggest a new approach. The coach’s advice on alternate ways to approach communications or problem solving can be immensely useful. Engaging a parenting coach can be a sign of strength, not weakness.
If the issue boils down to communication using commercially available software often helps. Two programs we particularly like are Civil Communicator and OurFamilyWizard.com. There are many others. For example UpToParents.org offers free help for parents including support, educational videos, blog articles and more .
You might want to return to your attorney for advice. Your prior attorney can come up to speed quickly. However, you can also shop around for a new lawyer who will have a fresh perspective. Think about assisted self-representation using unbundled legal services. Remember, part of a lawyer’s job is to be a counselor at law. Your lawyer should be helping you to understand likely outcomes and to have realistic expectations.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is really anything you do to settle outside of Court. There are three traditional types of ADR: mediation, med-arb, and arbitration. In addition, Early Neutral Assessment (ENA) is a newer alternative which is now available.
Most people are familiar with mediation. Regardless of your experience with mediation pre-decree this is a legitimate option. We have a blog post on how to prepare for mediation.
Med-Arb and Arbitration are most often used when the parties have agreed in advance to use one of these options as an alternative to court. If you do not have such an agreement in your Separation Agreement or by stipulation you may still want to consider these option. It can be quicker and often much less expensive than a court battle.
Early Neutral Assessment has a very high success rate. It is a form of ADR but is not mediation. The ENA team provides an early realistic assessment of your conflict using a very different process than mediation. The parties then negotiate between themselves with facilitation by the team. Often ENA is used in conflicts regarding children, but there are teams that focus on matters with primarily financial conflicts.
Settlement offers are encouraged as a method to promote resolution between the parties. They are presented under C.R.E. 408 and are confidential. (Make this a title of your offer or header on your email). Remember that you are the ones who know the children and the facts already. You know what is fair. In preparing or considering a settlement offer conferring with an attorney can be very helpful. Consider again the value of Unbundled Legal Services if you do not have or cannot afford legal representation.
Parenting Coordinators and Decision Makers
Have you considered a parenting coordinator? Have you considered a decision-maker? The appointment terms for both parenting coordinators and decision makers last 2 years. Perhaps over that 2 year timespan you can get some breathing room and the major decisions that seem so impossible to make together now will get easier, or be decided for you if you have a decision maker.
Child’s Legal Representative
Another possibility is the appointment of a Child’s Legal Representative (CLR) to represent the children’s rights independently from the parents. See C.R.S. §14-10-116. This may still keep you out of court by having the child’s legal representative involved in settlement. This can be very useful when the parents are struggling to clearly know the child’s best interests.
Yes, Court may be necessary but let it be your Last Resort not your First Move.