January 15, 2009

Dispute Resolution: Family Law Mediation in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas County

As a divorce lawyer in downtown Portland Oregon, I frequently get asked about the mediation requirements for family law cases in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington county.  Some people are aware of the availability of mediation through the county, and some are not.  There is confusion about what mediation is, and how it differs from a hearing or a trial. We hear lots of questions like “what is mediation? Is county mediation mandatory? Do I have to mediate if I know the other parent won’t agree?  Will I have to see the other parent face to face?  The following is our effort to summarize the court’s authority to require mediation,  the reasons behind court mandated mediation, and provide information about county family law mediation in the tri-county area.

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that aims to assist two or more disputants in reaching an agreement. At a trial, the parties present evidence, and a decision is imposed on the parties by the judge. In mediation, the parties themselves determine if there is an agreement, and the contents of the agreement. Many parents chose mediation with a private mediator. If, for financial or other reasons, you do not want to hire a private mediator, Multnomah, Clakamas, and Washington county make mediation available to parties involved in family law disputes.  Courts want people to mediate because it weeds out cases that can be resolved without the help of a judge. Clients want mediation because it gives them control over the outcome, is confidential, reduces conflict between the parties, and is generally less expensive than litigation.  Good lawyers like mediation because it provides an efficient and lower cost way to help clients resolve their disputes.          

ORS 107.755 requires that each judicial district provide a mediation orientation session for all parties in cases where custody, parenting time, or visitation is in dispute, and in any other domestic relations case where mediation has been ordered. The orientation session should make parties aware of (1) what mediation is; (2) mediation options available to them; and (3) the advantages and disadvantages of each method of dispute resolution. With limited exceptions, mediation is mandatory prior to a judge hearing  a case.  Mediation is not appropriate for restraining order or cases involving domestic violence, and court mediators must, per statute, be trained in recognizing domestic violence, allow parties to opt out, and take steps to avoid intimidation before and during mediation. County mediation is held in private, and all persons other than the mediator and staff, parties, counsel and children of the parties shall be excluded.  All communications, verbal or written, made in mediation proceedings shall be confidential, and not subject to examination in court.

Multnomah County:  The court’s rules about mediation are located in SLR 8.046.  Multnomah county is a mandatory mediation county for family law cases.  If you don ‘t mediate or get permission to get out of mediation, you won’t get time with a judge. No temporary hearing or trial regarding custody or parenting time will be set unless an Order for mediation has been obtained, an Order Waiving Mediation has been entered, or the parties have attended mediation since the filing of the Petition.  Modification motions will not be heard without compliance with the mediation requirement. The Multnomah County Family Court Services website provides that mediation is available for custody and visitation issues.  The service is supported by filing fees and is free to the participants. For more information or to set an appointment call Family Court Services at 503.988.3189.

Washington County: Washington County has mandatory mediation for Any action filed in the court involving a controversy over custody or parenting time of minor children. If the parties agree, the mediator can address issues other than children, such as property and support.  If there is a disagreement concerning custody or parenting time at any stage of a domestic relations proceeding, the parties must mediate.  Parties must complete two sessions of Kids Turn, the mandatory parenting class prior to mediating. Parties may independently select a private mediator. Mediation is confidential, and free. The Washington County Conciliation Services website provides information on mediation services in Washington County. Mediation can be scheduled by court order, or by calling Conciliation Services at : (503) 846-3428.

Clackamas County: Clackamas county is a voluntary mediation county.  There is no SLR mandating mediation. Parents can access free mediation through the county, but are not required to do so in most cases unless specifically ordered to by a judge.  The Clackamas County Family Court Services website provides information about accessing mediation in Clackamas County.  Most types of family law filings qualify for one or two free mediation sessions. Mediation sessions beyond the two free sessions are charged at $80 per hour. Mediation can be scheduled by calling  Family Court Services at  503-655-8415 .