I’ve attached an interesting article from the Northwest Indiana News.  What I find fascinating about the article is that people are not using mediation even when provided free.  This indicates to me that the courts, legal and mediation professions have done a poor job in educating the public about mediation and its benefits.

Few low-income couples tapping mediation fund

Service could save time and money in divorce/paternity cases


This story ran on nwitimes.com on Sunday, December 24, 2006 12:16 AM CST

VALPARAISO | Only eight couples this year took advantage of a county program offering free or subsidized divorce mediation services to low-income residents.

Most of the money, which is generated through a $20 fee on all divorce filings, was spent to mediate paternity disputes involving couples who were unmarried when they had children, said Family Court Supervisor Alison Cox.

Sixty-six families received paternity mediation assistance this year through the county’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Fund Plan, according to an annual report compiled by Cox.

Porter County magistrates Katherine Forbes and James Johnson, who handle most of the county’s divorce cases, said they don’t require mediation, but do encourage it.

Successful mediation not only reduces the need for court time, but also provides an opportunity to discuss issues that might not be allowed in a courtroom, Forbes said.

“I can’t imagine what the docket would be like without it,” Johnson said.

Divorcing couples interested in the mediation assistance program do not have to be referred by the county magistrate or judges, according to Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper.

Individuals can be referred by their attorneys or apply on their own through the family court division at the Porter County Juvenile Probation Department, she said.

Couples with children are eligible for assistance if they fall below 130 percent of the federal poverty index, but exceptions will be considered, according to the program guidelines.

While Cox said the program is capable of handling more divorce referrals, it operated in the red this year, according to the annual report. The program took in $14,360 during 2006 and paid out $15,574, leaving a balance of $26,150.

The family court program relies on the ADR income and Cox said the division is accomplishing a lot with the money. Cox said she and two other staff members in the juvenile probation department respond immediately to requests from the court for mediation in paternity cases.

The trio has a 91 percent success rate in paternity mediation cases, she said.

Cox and the other two staff mediators also provide the service at a fraction of the typical cost, she said. The compensation for staff members amounts to $22 to $25 per hour, she said, as compared to the $95-an-hour compensation rate spelled out in the plan for qualified attorneys.

The family court staff also conducts mediation in child abuse and neglect cases, and has provided mediation training for 13 area attorneys, who in return were required to volunteer their services, Harper said. This effort helped foster a greater awareness and increased use of mediation in the county, she said.

“It worked. It absolutely worked,” Harper said.