The mission and purpose of Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services is to promote the integration of alternative dispute resolution best practices into the community of northwest Minnesota’s legal service providers.

Custody Evaluation and Parenting Coordination
Minnesota House Bill H.F. Number 2990, as introduced in 2010 during the 86th Legislative Session, established significant changes for Family Court practices in outstate Minnesota. This legislation was eventually enacted as CHAPTER 30 Senate File 1191 and signed by Governor Mark Dayton on May 14, 2015, modifying custody and parenting time interpretations for Minnesota Statute §518.17. As a result of the CHAPTER 30 Senate File 1191 legislative process, Guardians ad Litem became state employees as of July 1, 2010, and the newly restructured Guardian ad Litem Program has since that date focused on its federally mandated Juvenile Court responsibilities, where the Guardian ad Litem Program is no longer compelled to provide Guardians ad Litem for custody evaluations or Orders for Protection. Independent Custody Evaluators now perform all custody evaluations pursuant to court orders, where court orders, and Minnesota Statute §518.167 govern the responsibilities and conduct of the Custody Evaluator. Like Guardians ad Litem, Custody Evaluators meet with children in school as a normal function of the Custody Evaluator's responsibilities. While Minnesota’s major metropolitan counties enjoy an abundance of private Custody Evaluators, outstate Minnesota faces a shortage of experienced Custody Evaluators for Family Court.

Equally important, attorneys and district court judges in northwest Minnesota have depended on Guardians ad Litem (GsAL) to work with parents and other custodial parties to improve communications and other co-parenting skills during the course of their custody evaluations. Non-GAL Custody Evaluators are not expected to engage in these co-parenting support activities, and consequently, parental conflicts commonly escalate during custody investigations. As members of the
Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) - an interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to the resolution of family conflict, the staff of Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services continues to adopt and practice the most recent developments in Family Court dispute resolution and custody investigation practices consistent with Minnesota statutes during our custody investigations. Minnesota has yet to develop standards custody evaluation practice, but our practices adhere to national AFCC custody evaluation standards as the Minnesota Chapter of the AFCC works to formalize those standards in our state.

One of the most important of these developments related to both Family Court mediation and custody evaluation for northwest Minnesota district courts is the new
Parenting Coordinator role in Family Court. A Parenting Coordinator is a child-focused mediator with extended responsibilities of a Parenting Time Expeditor in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training and experience helps high-conflict parents to set up and follow through on their parenting plans in the best interests of their children. Parenting coordination is a legal/mental health hybrid mediation/arbitration process that combines assessment, education, case management, conflict management, and arbitrative decision-making functions wherein the overall objective is healthy and meaningful parent-child relationships. Northwest Mediation & Custody Investigation Services employs staff trained in both custody evaluation and parenting coordination. This allows judges to simultaneously appoint our specially trained staff as a hybrid Custody Evaluator and non-mediating Parenting Coordinator to work with parties during custody evaluations and promote co-parenting skills and behaviors during the evaluation.

In our different Family Court appointments as mediators, Parenting Coordinators, Parenting Time Expeditors, and Custody Evaluators, the Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services staff maintains or exceeds the professional training guidelines established by Minnesota
General Rules of Practice for the District Courts Rule 114, AFCC Parenting Coordination Standards of Practice, and AFCC Custody Evaluation Standards of Practice, with a commitment to adhere to the former Guardian Ad Litem System Program Standards as they apply to custody evaluations and Family Court statutes.

Early Neutral Evaluation
First introduced in a 1983 experimental program by the U.S. Northern District of California, litigants and their attorneys meet with a neutral family court expert who identified the disputed issues, give the parties evaluative feedback on the strengths and weakness of their positions, and help them explore settlement options in a process called
Early Neutral Evaluation. In 2001, a six-member Minnesota Program Development Committee of expert Custody Investigators and mediators began a similar program for Minnesota. Since the first Minnesota pilot program in 2002, the Early Neutral Evaluation program in Minnesota has expanded to outstate counties from the metro area with a series of trainings for regional judges, attorneys, mediators, and other legal professionals involved with dissolutions with children. Outcomes improve as District Courts and their local bars become familiar with program practices, but in the initial adoption phase it is not uncommon for half of all Judicial District Family Court disputed custody cases to reach full settlement of custody and parenting time issues within three two-hour ENE sessions. Some Judicial Districts currently enjoy a 75% settlement rate.

Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services staff were among the first mediators in the 9th Judicial District to obtain this training, and we continue to build upon our experience in this important Family Court legal practice.

Best Practice Application of New Family Court Roles
As Minnesota Family Court legal professionals work to reduce conflict and improve co-parenting outcomes during and after dissolution with children proceedings, the new Family Court roles developed to support parents and children must be clearly defined and distinguished to optimize service delivery. Please explore and download our summary of Family Court roles for ADR and Custody Evaluation for making your own best practices choices from available resources. Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services provides trained individuals in all these non-JD Family Court roles.

Regional Professional Development
Mediation and custody evaluation specialists in the rural communities of the 9th Judicial District of Minnesota often experience conflicts of interests due to the small sizes of our communities and the rare opportunities for professional community development enjoyed by practitioners in larger communities. Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services is committed to establishing relationships with other 9th Judicial District practitioners who share our commitment to Minnesota and AFCC practice guidelines who would value (1) receiving referrals from us when we have conflicts of interest; (2) referring cases when you experience conflicts of interest; (3) working to build regional mediation and custody investigation professional development opportunities such as speakers, trainings, and a 9th Judicial District Subchapter of the Minnesota AFCC Chapter; (4) employment with us.

Northwest Mediation & Custody Evaluation Services staff are fully trained neutrals
as defined under Minnesota General Rules of Practice Rule 114,
and proud members of the

NWM&CES is a member of the AFCC