This is an evaluation of the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families, the first U.S. alternative dispute resolution model to provide legal dispute resolution, therapeutic, education, and financial services to separating and divorcing families. Services at the Center were geared toward low-conflict divorce and criteria for inclusion included a willingness to cooperate, an existing or potential court case, and no history of lengthy litigation. The Center conducted a two-year pilot program that began on the campus on the Denver University Campus and later moved to a community setting. Parents were screened into or out of the program during intake screening. If deemed eligible for the Center’s services, parents then participated in a joint service-planning meeting where they decided what services to engage in. Two services including mediation and legal education were mandatory. During the two-year pilot, 249 parents submitted an intake form. Of those, two-thirds (82 families) proceeded to partake in some services. Before and after services, parents completed surveys to measure their own well-being and their children’s well-being. These surveys and post-service satisfaction surveys provided the data for the evaluation.
Parents reported generally good physical and mental well-being before beginning services. Despite this, there were some areas in which the parents’ self-reports indicated significant improvement. These included lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress; decreased hostility; better shared decision-making skills; improved communication and conflict resolution skills; greater confidence in their co-parenting relationship; lower levels of parenting stress; and better parenting beliefs and attitudes regarding the appropriate emotional expectations of their children. The parents’ reports on their children’s well-being, on the other hand, did not indicate any significant improvement.
In addition to reporting improvements in their well-being, parents also indicated they were highly satisfied with their experience with the Center. Almost all (93%) believed that their children’s rights were protected and considered, and 90% felt they learned about their dispute resolution options early enough to make informed decisions. Additionally, 86% believed their rights were protected and 76% felt the agreements reached in mediation were fair. Almost all (98%) believed the agreements they reached would last, possibly because the same percentage believed they were in complete agreement with the other parent about parenting time, decision-making and financial issues.
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