Expedited Mediation Sessions to Resolve Parenting Time Issues during COVID-19 Pandemic
As court systems across the country scramble to figure out how to manage caseloads during COVID-19 shutdowns, the North Dakota Supreme Court has established an Expedited Parenting Time Mediation Program to help with the panic affecting families in the state. The court system anticipated a deluge of cases involving disputes over parenting time directly related to the stay-at-home orders issued by governors throughout the country and needed a way to handle the immediate issues when families, lawyers, and court representatives had no means of coming together to mediate in the traditional sense.
The program will allow up to an hour of phone mediation for existing civil cases regarding parenting rights, grandparent visits, or relocation. The goal of the program is to deal with two of the most common concerns heard by the court when states of emergency arise. These include the delay in the granting of formal motions and the expensive of modifying any existing orders.
According to State Court Administrator Sally Holewa, "Our No. 1 goal is to quickly address those issues when they come up because uncertainty breeds fear and anger. And once you get fear and anger into the mix, people cannot think clearly. So situations quickly deteriorate, and that is not good for the children and that is not good for the parents. "
Holewa explained the program is entirely voluntary. Mediation sessions will need to take place within one to seven days after the application has been submitted online. There will be a three day determination period and if the parents are unable to agree on a resolution, the existing court order will remain in place. The program is similar to the normal mediation program the court offers, which receives approximately 1000 referrals every year.