Family Law Alternative Dispute Resolution in King County, Washington
Oct 2020 | Family Law
In King County, alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) is required at least thirty days prior to trial in family law proceedings. ADR is a practice used to resolve legal issues as an alternative to litigation. Three typical forms of ADR include peer-to-peer mediation, settlement conferences, and arbitrations. The most common form used to resolve family law cases is a settlement conference.
Family law settlement conferences involve a neutral third party, otherwise known as a settlement conference master, who assists parties with negotiations for settlement. Typically, the settlement conference master is an attorney who has practiced family law or a retired judicial officer.
Prior to COVID-19, settlement conferences typically were conducted in person. In an in-person settlement conference, parties and their attorneys are placed in separate rooms and the settlement conference master “shuttles” back and forth between the rooms relaying each parties’ offers. This method is effective because it allows for privacy and decreases potential conflict. The settlement conference master is able to candidly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case, which can help the parties come to an agreement. Because of the collaborative nature of settlement conferences, parties actively participate in the resolution of their case, rather than having a judicial officer decide the matter.
If the parties reach a resolution at the end of the conference, the parties typically sign a CR2A agreement. This is a binding agreement based on a court rule, CR2A, that states, “[n]o agreement…will be regarded by the court…unless the evidence thereof shall be in writing and subscribed by the attorneys...” Essentially, this court rule requires that stipulated agreements be in writing and signed by attorneys if parties are represented. It is an enforceable contract, which can then be converted to final pleadings. Parties need to be sure that they understand the agreement before signing.
Because of COVID-19, many settlement conferences are now being conducted virtually through remote platforms such as Zoom. The host (usually the settlement conference master) provides the parties and attorneys with a link. When the parties “enter” the meeting, the host puts the parties (and attorneys) in separate “break out” rooms. The parties and their attorneys may speak freely because each room is private. As in the traditional shuttle diplomacy method, the settlement conference master goes back and forth between the break out rooms to relay offers of settlement and discuss the case with the parties and attorneys.
At the conclusion of a Zoom mediation, the parties can still sign a binding CR2A agreement. Signatures may be executed through e-signing services such as DocuSign or Adobe, or by printing, signing, and scanning the document. As in a traditional mediation, the CR2A will be binding and parties need to be aware of what they are signing.
If you are in search of a settlement conference master for your settlement conference or an attorney for your family law matters, please consider contacting the Family Law Department at Curran Law Firm.