Domestic Relations Unit
Domestic Relations Services (DRS) mediators help parents minimize the traumatic effect of divorce and separation upon children. In divorce, separation, paternity, family access or adult abuse matters, Family Court judges may refer parents to DRS for assistance in developing parenting plans (click to view forms). that are sensitive to the needs of the children. DRS staff meet with parents individually and jointly, and when appropriate, with children. Staff may also contact others who have information about the needs of the children. This may include a request to review medical or other mental health related records. Occasionally, a home visit is required. The primary service offered is a non-confidential mediation service where staff meets with each parent separately for an initial interview, followed in most cases by meeting with both parents in a structured process aimed at reaching agreement on differences over their parenting plan. This service must be ordered by the family court judge, often at the request of either attorney.
In some cases, DRS is able to help parents reach complete agreement on Part A of their parenting plan that includes arrangements for decision making and shared time with children. DRS staff do not address financial responsibility (child support) that is included in Part B of the parenting plan, or property matters. When agreement is reached Staff may provide Part A of the plan to your attorney to use in resolving the divorce or paternity matter.
DRS staff maintain communication with your attorney and will report on your progress to the court via written correspondence with attorneys and at status conferences, which are scheduled by the judge and attended by your attorney. (DRS staff do not provide information about your case directly to the court unless your attorney is present.) When parents cannot reach agreement, DRS staff may make recommendations to provide further assistance in helping you resolve differences over your parenting plan. Occasionally, DRS may be called upon to testify in court by a parent's attorney or the Guardian Ad Litem. In such instances, the Judge listens to the findings of DRS staff, along with other testimony that is presented in the case. The Judge then makes the final decision about parenting arrangements.
Confidential Mediation Services are also available on a voluntary or court ordered basis. These services may be initiated by attorneys, by parents who are representing themselves or by the Judge. Parents may also request mediation services even if matters are not pending in Court. DRS staff do not attend settlement conferences or report to the court on participants in confidential mediation. Staff will confirm, upon request, the status of the mediation process including whether or not agreement on issues was reached.
HOW ARE THE SERVICES ACCESSED?
- Most Services by staff of the Domestic Relations Unit are accessed by a court referral from the judge on cases that are pending before the court.
- Confidential mediation services are available without a court referral as long as both parents are willing to participate. Most often this option is chosen when there is Not an active case pending before the court; (pre or post filing).
- For more information call 314-615-8093
Parenting Plans and the “Pro Se Docket”
Staff of the Domestic Relations Services assist with the Court’s Pro Se Docket, for cases where both parents who are seeking a dissolution of marriage are not represented by attorneys. All case files on this docket, where there is a child in common, are reviewed by DRS staff to assure that the proposed parenting plan (click to view forms) is completed correctly. Staff usually meet with parents on the day of the court hearing to go over their parenting plan and make any needed changes. This is usually a brief meeting rather than a full mediation process, as the Pro Se docket is intended for parents who agree on custody arrangements for their children.
Parenting Court Project
Staff of the Domestic Relations Service also assist with the Court’s Parenting Court Docket. The Parenting Court project was created in collaboration with the Child Support Division of the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney (PA). The PA’s office has historically managed a specialized docket that seeks to make the biological father the legal father in cases where a parent is receiving state benefits, such as TANF or Medicaid for their children. While the prosecutor has legal authority to request that a parent pay child support, Federal rules forbid the prosecutor from requesting a parenting plan that would spell out each parent’s parenting time with and decision making responsibility for their child. However, under the law the court may provide a parenting plan when one parent requests it.
This project was created when arrangements were made for staff of the Domestic Relations Service to attend the docket in order to provide on-the-spot parenting plans for persons who request them. Services are provided at no charge and the majority of parenting plans are completed on the morning of the docket. In cases where a father does not participate, a parenting plan can be provided for the mother in order to provide structure for parenting arrangements and legal protection by determining who has legal custody of the child. In cases where only the father appears, staff are available to assist the father in developing a proposed parenting plan that is filed with the court. DRS staff then invite the mother to participate at the next court date. In many cases, both parents are present and participate in the creation of their parenting plan. If neither parent desires to have a plan creation of the parenting plan is not mandatory.