A new program is helping families going through divorce or a legal separation resolve conflicts while saving courts time and money. It has been successful in Marion County, and officials in Cincinnati recently held a training seminar to learn about adopting the innovative practice.
The program is called Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE). It's a type of alternative dispute resolution that will allow parents and their attorneys to meet to discuss possible financial and custody solutions without having to go before a judge and without involving their children.
Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court Administrator Lisa Gorrasi said social workers, who work for the courts, would save about 40 investigating hours for each divorcing family. The investigations are done to find out what's best for the children before going to trial.
Gorrasi said Hamilton County is looking forward to implementing ENE.
"We think we're going to be able to resolve cases more effectively for the families," Gorrasi said.
Hamilton County court staff is learning about ENE from Marion County Family Court Judge Deborah Alspach. Through a judicial scholarship, the Ohio Supreme Court sent Judge Alspach to the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts conference where she heard Minnesota court staff present ENE and thought Ohio could benefit from the program.
Judge Alspach said Marion County has experienced a 70-80 percent success rate in resolving divorce cases before they'd go to trial since starting the program 18 months ago. She said parents seem happy with ENE.
"They come out with a resolution. They've taken control of their case and the outcome, and they feel as though their voice has been heard," Judge Alspach said.
Besides sharing the success of ENE with Hamilton County, Judge Alspach is showing how litigants are benefiting from the opportunity to share their information in an informal setting.
"Everyone's aware now that the court's budget is shrinking, and the pressures on our staff - our staff's reduced, time limits are greater, and we need to offer alternatives to litigants to resolve their cases in a more efficient manner," said Judge Susan Tolbert with the Hamilton County Domestic Relations Division.
"I think families who are divorcing are in a high stresses situation and if we can minimize that for mom, dad and the children, I think that we're going to be successful," Gorrasi said.
Hamilton County plans to start using ENE within the next few months.