When you are going through a divorce, child custody, child support, or any other family law proceeding, you might not realize that there are other legal professionals involved than just the lawyers and the judge. 

Any type of legal matter can be confusing and complicated, especially when personal matters, like a family law dispute, are involved. This is why an increasing number of courts are turning to family law facilitators to make the process easier for the parties and their families. So what is a family law facilitator, and what do they do?

What is a Family Law Facilitator?

A family law facilitator is a legal professional who has to job of providing indirect assistance to both sides in order to help bring a family law case to a final outcome. They are often hired by the court and act as a neutral party to help the parties navigate the legal system as efficiently as possible. 

They can be an attorney, but do not have to be, as qualified paralegals and legal assistants can also hold these positions. It is important to emphasize a family law facilitator’s neutrality: they are not meant to act as an attorney or legal counsel for either the plaintiff or defendant, and thus the attorney/client privilege does not apply to any conversations or interactions someone has with them.

So if the plaintiff or defendant tell the facilitator something, like how they abuse their child or plan on kidnapping them, then the facilitator has every right (and obligation) to tell the court. 

What Do Family Law Facilitators Do?

Facilitators help both the petitioner and respondent’s side perform tasks to move their case forward or help bring about its conclusion. One of the major ways they do this is by helping both sides with necessary paperwork. 

Knowing what forms to file and where is a major part of resolving any legal suit, and a lack of knowledge of the bureaucratic machinations can be frustrating for someone not used to dealing with it on a regular basis. 

These services are especially vital for pro se parties, which means that the person will be representing themselves during the legal proceedings. The exact number of services facilitators may perform depends on the jurisdiction, but can include any of the following:

  • Filing opening petitions for divorce, child support, adoption, child custody, or any other family law matter;
  • Helping either the petitioner or the respondent find the right legal form and provide instructions for completing them;
  • Explaining unknown legal terms;
  • Making sure that the petitioner and respondent are aware of court proceedings and filing schedules;
  • Providing anyone that needs it information and/or referrals to social or legal services such as domestic violence programs, legal aid organizations, and others; and
  • Serving as a mediator to help resolve any issues that either side cannot agree on.

While a facilitator may serve as a mediator in some places, this option is not available in many others. This does not mean that the petitioner and respondent cannot seek out a third party and initiate the mediation process themselves, it just means that the court will not provide one for them. 

This is certainly not a complete list of the help a family law facilitator can provide, and a certain county/jurisdiction may only offer some of these. Check with your local county court or state website to see what specific tasks they handle on behalf of those dealing with family law situations.

Is a Facilitator the Same as a Court Clerk?

No. A court clerk is a largely administrative position that deals with clerical tasks that are vital to the court’s daily function. They process court records, schedule hearings, and handle all the fees that must be filed with every case. 

Clerks deal with every type of law, not just family law, and in counties with big populations there are often many clerks, each working for a specific court (criminal, probate, civil, etc.) They maintain the court calendar and compile related documents like subpoenas, writs, injunctions, and judgments. While clerks may perform some of the tasks that family law facilitators do, it is an entirely separate position.

How Can I Get A Family Law Facilitator’s Help?

While some counties have family law facilitators, not all do. If you are seeking a facilitator’s help contact the family court in your jurisdiction to see if they have them available to you, and how to get in touch with one. You may need to make an appointment to see one. The best place to start is usually the website of the  family court in your county.

Do I Need An Attorney To Help With My Family Law Issues?

While seeking the services of a family law facilitator is important, you may also need to contact an experienced family law attorney to help with your case. Unlike a facilitator, an attorney’s job is to be your advocate throughout the process and protect your rights. Hiring an attorney is often the best step if your case proceeds to hearing or trial, as they will be there to represent you specifically. 

If you feel like you need a family law facilitator, then ask yourself if you need more help than what a facilitator can offer. If you think you do, then it would be best to contact an attorney instead.