Ohio Revised Code (“ORC”) Sections 3117.01 through 3117.08 are the specific statutes governing the conciliation process in the State of Ohio. Black’s Law Dictionary reflects that the word “conciliation” is derived from French law wherein it was/is the formality to which intending litigants are subjected in cases brought before a Judge. The Judge convenes the parties and endeavors to reconcile them. Should the Judge not succeed, the case proceeds to trial.
In the Domestic Relations Court of Montgomery County, Galen Curry is the person who is “in charge” of the conciliation process. On Thursday, November 6, 2008, I had the opportunity to meet with Galen Curry to learn about his role in a conciliation proceeding. Ohio Revised Code Section 3117.03 provides for the appointment of one or more conciliation counselors in counties having a population over one hundred thousand according to the latest federal census.
As the conciliation counselor, Galen Curry does the following:
Confers with parties involved with each conciliation proceeding and makes recommendations to the assigned conciliation judge. (In Montgomery County, Ohio, Judge Denise Cross and Judge Judith King are the conciliation judges.)
Holds hearings in conciliation cases.
Causes statistics to be compiled, reports to be made, and records to be kept regarding same.
Provides such other assistance as may be relevant to the work of the court in conciliation.
To prepare Galen Curry for his role as a conciliation counselor, he has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and over nineteen years of working with the Juvenile Court of Montgomery County in the Juvenile Detention Center. As such, he has years of work experience in counseling youths and their families. In addition to the foregoing, Mr. Curry has completed a course in Basic Mediation and a specialized course in Mediation in Divorce and Dissolution Proceedings. He has been the conciliation counselor since April, 2004, when he was selected to replace Ted Fields who was retiring from the Court.
Ohio Revised Code Section 3117.05 sets forth the information that is to be included in a Petition for Conciliation. The Petition may be filed by either or both parties in an action for Divorce, Dissolution, or Legal Separation. One party is or both parties are asking for assistance from the Court in trying “to preserve the marriage by effecting a “reconciliation” or “to amicably settle the controversy between the spouses” with the goal of avoiding “further litigation over the issues involved”. The statute also provides that “no fee shall be charged for filing the Petition”. Accordingly, the parties are allowed a “free bite of the apple” in trying to preserve their marriage and keeping their family intact. When a Petition for Conciliation is filed with the Court, the parties are provided with an opportunity to focus upon the conciliation or salvage of their marriage.
The conciliation counselor advised me that when he is presented with a Petition for Conciliation, he immediately sends to each party a letter or notice advising them of the time and place for the initial meeting or hearing to take place. The conciliation sessions normally take place in the Conference Room (Room 250) of the Domestic Relations Court. Mr. Curry says that it is his practice to meet initially with the party who has filed the Petition for Conciliation to get that party’s rationale for trying to salvage the marital relationship. He next meets with the party who is responding to the Petition for Conciliation to learn how that spouse is reacting to the present status of events. If acceptable to both parties, he will then meet with both parties to see if reconciliation is indeed possible as perceived by the parties. Mr. Curry advised me that he normally schedules a two-hour session for the initial conciliation hearing.
If the parties seem to be open to or moving toward reconciliation, the conciliation counselor can schedule additional sessions with the parties with the approval of the assigned conciliation judge. Also, if the parties are amenable to marital counseling, they may be referred to private marriage counselors or to a community agency such as Marriage Works! Ohio located at 2201 North Main Street, Dayton, OH 45405-3528.
In terms of statistics and record keeping, Galen Curry advised me that fifty nine (59) Petitions for Conciliation were filed in calendar year 2007. Of that total number, thirty three (33) couples were successful in reconciling their marriages for a success rate of fifty six (56) percent. The conciliation counselor for this County appeared to me to be an active and avid advocate in trying to save marriages and keeping families intact. He repeatedly stated to me that so many of the juveniles with whom he worked in the Juvenile Detention Center were children of “broken” homes and families.
During the interview, I asked Mr. Curry about the “best part” of his job. He proudly showed me a “thank you” card from parties of a long-term marriage (60 years) wherein the parties had just stopped communicating with one another. The Wife moved from the marital residence to the home of one of the parties’ adult children and divorce proceedings commenced. The Husband’s Petition for Conciliation caused the Wife to believe that Husband did indeed care for her. With the able assistance of the conciliation counselor, the parties salvaged their long-term marriage.
I believe the Conciliation Process to be a very valuable one for Montgomery County, Ohio, and for all of the citizens of this State.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.