Michigan 20th Circuit Court’s Online Parenting Time Complaint Resolution

Getting Tech Friendly: Ottawa County Friend of the Court Offers Online Parenting Time Complaint Resolution

The Ottawa County Friend of the Court has expanded its ground-breaking online dispute resolution platform to include parenting time complaints. Parents may now initiate and resolve parenting time complaints online from a smartphone, computer or tablet. The 20th Circuit Court in Ottawa County is the only court in the state of Michigan and in the nation to offer this option.

“Online dispute resolution of parenting time complaints can happen outside of court hours,” said Chief Judge Jon Van Allsburg, “and the parties do not have to appear at the same time, to solve transportation and scheduling issues. Technology provides access to the court to parents who cannot attend court in person, and we believe that is important.”

Jennell Challa, Ottawa County Friend of the Court, said “we encourage parents to prevent misunderstandings by putting their parenting time schedules in writing and by adjusting them as their circumstances change. If a parent misses scheduled time with their child, we seek to address the issue in a way that is convenient for both parents.”

Matt Schmid, Assistant Friend of the Court, notes that “this online process will work the same as it does in person. Any parent will get the chance to explain the problem or the circumstances. We can then create makeup parent time agreements or refer the parents to mediation via the platform, just as we would in person. Additional options are helpful during this difficult time.”

The platform works by enabling any parent with an existing court case to electronically contact their caseworker. That person can provide information, and the caseworker then invites the other parent to respond. The other parent has various options for how to respond, including proposing make-up parenting time. The caseworker can assist by offering ideas and suggestions. If the parents reach an agreement, the case worker will prepare the legal document for all parties to review and sign. The agreement is then submitted electronically to the judge for signing. When the agreed upon order is signed, any hearing on the dispute is canceled if all disputed matters have been resolved. The parties need not come to court to finalize the agreement and the entire process can be completed in a few days, whereas filing a motion and scheduling a hearing on the same dispute can take several weeks.

This process is similar to “in-person” parenting time complaint resolution, is free of charge and convenient for people who cannot come to court for any reason, including work, school, health, or quarantine.

The 20th Circuit Court has long been a national leader in improving outcomes for families via online access. In 2016, it was the first family court in the nation to launch an online child support compliance platform. In 2020, the court launched an online dispute resolution process, which has now been expanded to offer parenting time complaint initiation and resolution.

The platform is powered by Matterhorn by Court Innovations, an online dispute resolution provider based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Congratulations to the Michigan 20th Circuit Court for taking a proactive, public-centered approach to working with families. We are proud to provide the technology platform for their great work,” said Court Innovations CEO, MJ Cartwright.

Visit courtinnovations.com/MIC20 to see the platform.