Court program helps divorcing couples avoid litigation

LIHU‘E — Parties involved in highly contested divorces now have the option of participating in a Contested Divorce Mediation program before going to trial.

According to the Hawai‘i State Judiciary, the Fifth Circuit Family Court on Kaua‘i started the program during the first week of June to help divorcing couples amicably settle their financial disputes, child custody, visitation and other issues, and avoid or minimize the stress and cost of litigation. The program is currently limited to contested divorce cases in which both parties are represented by counsel.

“We are excited to be able to offer this program and thank all the attorney mediators who made it possible by volunteering their time,” said Family Court Judge Edmund Acoba. “Hopefully, this program will not only help litigants become active participants in reaching an amicable agreement, it will also alleviate the demand for trial time in the Family Court.

“If successful, we would like to make the program available to self-represented litigants and unmarried couples who come to court with custody or other issues,” he added.

Parties are informed by the Family Court judge of the option to participate in the program once the case is set for trial. Parties who opt to participate are assigned a mediator by the judge.

The judge will select a mediator from a list of nine licensed attorneys who have been trained for the program by per diem judges Max Graham and Frank Rothschild. Because the attorney mediators are volunteering their time, there is no cost to the divorcing couple for the mediator’s services. The parties are responsible, however, for any fees their own attorneys may charge to represent the parties during the mediation.

The mediator will meet with the divorcing couple and their attorneys to help them resolve, or substantially resolve, contested issues. The mediator will not take sides or make decisions for the parties. Instead, the mediator will try to help the parties reach an agreement that is fair and acceptable.

The mediation process is confidential and may last from a few hours to a few days. All communications shared by the parties and their attorneys with the mediator will not be disclosed to the Family Court unless a settlement agreement is reached.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com.

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