What kind of dispute are you having with the other parent? Do you disagree on the interpretation of the residential schedule? Have you both scheduled a vacation on the same date? Do you disagree about a major decision for your children (e.g. what school to attend)?
Remember, if you want to change the terms of the parenting plan, dispute resolution is not necessarily the right process. In that case, you should consider whether a modification of the plan is appropriate.
Check Your Plan for a Description of How to Start the Process
Once you are clear that you need dispute resolution, check the provisions of your parenting plan (if you don't have a copy, you can get a copy at the courthouse where it was originally entered) to see how you notify the other parent that you are requesting this process. Usually, you provide notice by written request, email or certified mail, and the process requested is counseling, mediation or arbitration.
Contact the Neutral Party Listed as Your Dispute Resolution Professional
Your plan may specify a particular counselor, mediator or arbitrator, or an organization to provide dispute resolution. Make contact with that individual and find out their availability for dispute resolution. Get several different dates to offer to the other side. Consider whether the matter can be handled briefly or by telephone.
Contact the Other Parent with Your Request for Dispute Resolution
Using the designated method to give notice, send your request for dispute resolution to the other parent. Provide him or her with the potential dates you obtained from your mediator in Step 3 and ask them to select a date or propose another date within five business days (there's no law on this, but it's a reasonable request).
Participate in Dispute Resolution
Once dispute resolution is scheduled, your mediator will tell you what materials to provide to him or her and how to participate in the process. Remember--dispute resolution is a process to be followed, not a guarantee of the resolution of an issue. It is also supposed to be a quick and easy process.
What if the Other Parent Refuses to Participate in Dispute Resolution?
If the other parent will not schedule dispute resolution, you can make a motion to require that parent to participate. You will need to show proof that you have requested dispute resolution, and proof that the other party refused to participate (if they refuse to sign for certified letters, for example). You will need to show as well that you have been reasonable in your requests (being flexible on scheduling matters, for example).
What if You Can't Resolve Your Dispute with the Other Parent?
Dispute resolution outside of court doesn't always work. As listed above, it is a process, not a guarantee of resolution. If your effort to resolve the dispute does not work you can make a motion asking the court for permission to take whatever action you cannot agree about, or to stop the other parent from doing something you disagree with.
What if Dispute Resolution is Successful?
The neutral party will make a record regarding any agreements that you and the other parent have reached. That record can be used to enforce the agreements in the event that the same disagreement arises again later.
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