Livingston County court tries innovative divorce initiative

In an effort to reduce the expense and the emotional toll often associated with divorce, an innovative program has been introduced in one Livingston County court. Early-stage mediation now will be mandatory for all divorcing couples whose cases are before Livingston County 53rd District Court Judge Carol Sue Reader.

Effective Oct. 19, divorcing couples with cases assigned to Reader have been required to attempt to resolve their issues at the outset with the help of a neutral, cost-effective, professional mediator. Low-income couples will be referred to a low- or no-cost mediator upon a showing of financial need.

"The way a divorce proceeding begins can either aggravate the existing pain and anger between spouses or it can be the start of a healthy reorganization of a person's life," said Reader. "People need to be able to talk through their differences and have a means to achieve a divorce in the least confrontational manner at a lower cost to both parties."

The program is partly a result of the participation of Reader and other local court officials in a volunteer professional consortium known as "LIPA." The Livingston County Interdisciplinary Professional Association ( is composed of attorneys, counselors, therapists, financial planners, real estate professionals and other local professionals whose work regularly brings them face to face with divorcing couples and families. LIPA's mission is to advance respectful, humane and effective ways to use out-of-court methods to resolve family legal disputes.

The list of mediators certified in Livingston County is available at the court house, as well as on the LIPA website.

Reader's initiative to implement facilitative mediation at the filing of the divorce complaint has been applauded by a number of local professionals. Gary Marsh LMSW, a mediator and founding member of LIPA said, "Judge Reader's new program is a major step forward in our mission to help serve couples and families in their moment of need. The program utilizes a neutral facilitator who helps divorcing couples resolve issues as early in the divorce process as possible using a collaborative, future-oriented perspective, which is the cornerstone of mediation."

Reader's new program of early stage mediation is a first for Livingston county, but it reflects a trend in a growing number of Michigan counties. The trend toward more affordable, more personalized and less adversarial methods for resolving disputes out-of-court is a national and international one taking hold in the field of family law. The trend has been noted in articles carried in publications such as in Family Circle and O, The Oprah Magazine. An increasing number of celebrities, notably Robin Williams and his wife, have opted to take an out-of-court approach to resolving the private family and financial issues involved in their divorce.