What is a Dispute Resolution Clause?

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Parenting Plan, Child Custody, Divorce, Motion to Modify, and Modification on Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Many clients ask us why Parenting Plans seem so detailed, even overly complicated, and wonder why they cannot be shorter and simpler.  While the courts and family law attorneys continue to strive for simplicity in Parenting Plans, both also realize that spelling out governing rules helps anticipate situations that could otherwise come back to court.

But even the best attempts at clarity and anticipating all possible contingencies will leave parents with situations where they are unsure how the Parenting Plan applies.  In these situations, Missouri requires parents utilize dispute resolution procedures set out in the Parenting Plan.

All dispute resolution clauses do not look alike; the parties, the attorneys and the court will provide input based on the individual parents.  Usually, the parties will have a designated person to contact with questions of interpretation of the Parenting Plan.  This person could be an attorney, a parent coordinator who has special training in these matters, a counselor or psychologist, or a skilled mediator.  The cost to use each of these individuals varies, so courts will factor that into consideration.

When one or both parents feel unsure how the Parenting Plan applies to a situation, one or both parents must contact the designated dispute resolution person for a consult.  In some cases, the question can be resolved in a matter of minutes; in other cases, the parties may need to meet with the individual and have a de facto mediation session.  Hopefully, through this process of airing out different interpretations and the problems involved, the parties will reach a satisfactory compromise.  Avoiding a return to court is the ultimate goal of the dispute resolution procedure.

What types of issues need dispute resolution?  Technically, any difference between the parents in the language of the Parenting Plan qualifies.  Some questions may deal with trading an hour for an event, having compensatory time when a holiday trumps a weekend, or involve proper communication prior to making a decision for the child.  Some questions may even seek a deviation from the Parenting Plan.

Can I ignore the dispute resolution procedure?  Yes and no.  No one can force you to try and mediate a dispute.  However, if you choose not to participate and litigation becomes the only remedy, you could have problems.  If you file a motion to modify without first complying with the dispute resolution clause, the court could dismiss your motion and require you to first try dispute resolution.  In this scenario, failing to follow costs you both time and money.  If the other parent files a motion to modify, you have an “image” problem by not participating in trying to resolve the problem without going to court.  In this scenario, you will be perceived as less compliant and may have more hurdles to overcome.  So, a parent should always try and follow the dispute resolution process, no matter how fruitless that parent perceives it to be.

Parents should really think about the benefits of the dispute resolution process in crafting their Parenting Plans.  Selecting the right procedure and the right facilitator could save you return trips to court and a great deal of anguish.

If you have questions about dispute resolution clauses, contact us – we can help.