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May 21, 2009
Lake County Domestic Relations Court Offers Free Help for Parents

For the first time, free parenting coordination services are available for Lake County residents to help them manage shared parenting plans without expensive and sometimes lengthy litigation.

Lake County Domestic Relations Court Judge Colleen A. Falkowski said she’s very excited about the program and the fact that it fills an unmet need that most families can’t afford through expensive private mediation sessions. The court’s first parenting coordinator, Anna Tyrrell, began working with parents this week.

Judge Falkowski attended a Supreme Court of Ohio parenting coordination seminar last year. She then worked with the Supreme Court’s Dispute Resolution Section to apply for a grant and set up the program.

She said while major family issues will always be determined by domestic relations court such as designating residential parents and setting visitation rights, the parenting coordinator will be able to diffuse hard feelings and mistrust between the parties by resolving a dispute soon after it occurs. “The beauty of the program is the parents get a timely decision and life moves on instead of fuming and tallying up grievances until the next court appearance,” Judge Falkowski said.

The parenting coordinator is empowered to determine what’s best for the child. As an example, Judge Falkowski said the framework of a shared parenting plan oftentimes doesn’t fully address each and every situation. The parenting coordinator will fill in the blanks in the plan that parents and attorneys missed, which can include something as specific as who takes the child trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Handling disputes in this manner also relieves a burden on the local court system, Judge Falkowski said. She noted that broken families lead to contentious situations where even the smallest perceived slights can end up in court. Of course, there’s still a built-in mechanism to bring disagreements back in court if the parties don’t follow through with the coordinator’s decisions or other serious situations, she said.

A Fiscal Year 2009 grant from the Supreme Court provided the start-up funding for the part-time position. This is the Supreme Court’s first parenting coordination grant. Judge Falkowski said the Lake County court plans to underwrite all the funding for the program and the part-time parenting coordinator beginning in July with the start of the next fiscal year.

Lake County Domestic Relations Court Contact: Judge Colleen A. Falkowski at 440.350.2708
Supreme Court Contacts: Chris Davey or Bret Crow at 614.387.9250