Court budgets are stretched to the limit, and families are bearing the brunt of this. Previously, parties had access to free or low-cost custody evaluations, free mediation service, and free visitation or parenting time evaluations. Ironically, all of this access was available in may counties some 15 years or more ago, when there was more of an assumption on the idea that the mother was the primary party and that the father should have a cookie-cutter ‘every other weekend and one day a week’ parenting schedule. Now, society recognizes the value of both parents in their children’s lives and, in the vast majority of my cases, both parents play active roles in parenting their children. More than one judges have commented that the only thing harder than picking between two bad parents was picking between two good parents.
Now, attorneys and other professionals have worked with judicial officers and court administrators to present a variety of options, most on some kind of sliding fee scale, to parents seeking resolution to custody or parenting time disputes. Common types are Early Neutral Evaluations and Moderated Settlement Conferences. With few exceptions, most of these services are fee-based. They are voluntary programs and usually the professionals charge well below their regular hourly rate.