Online Mediation Offers What Courts Can’t
March 04, 2022 by
Clark County, Nevada’s county seat and largest city, Las Vegas, is the enticing backdrop to more than 100,000 marriages each year. Unfortunately, Nevada also has a divorce rate in the double digits. Those numbers add up to a heavy load for county courts, particularly the Family Mediation Center (FMC), which handles nearly 4,000 contested child custody cases per year. This averages out to roughly 354 cases per year for each of the 11 full-time mediators on staff.
For families wrestling with legal and physical custody issues, disagreements around vacation time, holiday schedules, and exchanges, waiting up to two months for a court date and up to four weeks for a mediator appointment presents obvious challenges.
Forward-thinking Clark County implemented a pilot online dispute resolution (ODR) program in three of its 20 family courts in 2018. The ODR system enables a divorcing couple to work through issues online in a way that not only costs less but saves all parties from potentially volatile face-to-face situations. With all communications handled and tracked electronically, each party is empowered to proceed at his or her pace, outside of court hours and in a less stressful environment. This provides time for thoughtful consideration of options and steers individuals away from emotional exchanges. Parents can accept or reject settlement offers online, and relevant documents are easily uploaded.
Of the 57 cases referred to mediation during the pilot, more than half reached a resolution online. The remaining cases that proceeded to mediation were already almost half-resolved, requiring significantly less time in-person. 100 percent of cases that used party-to-party negotiation reached a resolution outside of court hours, and successful negotiation took an average of six days. The fastest agreement was reached online in just four days.
“To me, that is the definition of expanding access to justice,” said Jamie Gillespie, general manager for Modria® solution, which powered the results, including the resolutions reached outside of court hours. “We are offering people something that the courts around the world cannot do.”
These results, including a marked impact in both time and cost for parents and increased efficiencies for the courts, were so positive that roll-out to the other 17 courts will take place this year, making ODR a first-step option in all locations.
Online dispute resolution is part of a national trend among justice systems that also includes switching to electronic court filings and enabling cross-jurisdiction information sharing. This journey towards greater digitization gives justice system partners real returns on investment while facilitating increased access to justice for all citizens.