Individuals and families facing legal problems resulting in foreclosure, or related to family law, have a resource in Alabama that can provide free help. The Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution, established in 1994 by order of the Supreme Court of Alabama, is designated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit agency. The Center, which is housed at the Alabama State Bar office in Montgomery, provides free mediation services statewide in the areas of foreclosure prevention and mortgage modification, as well as in areas of family law, in particular in cases involving children.
About a year ago, the Center was awarded grant funding to develop and implement a foreclosure prevention/mortgage modification mediation program as part of the national mortgage settlement with Attorney General Luther Strange. The program is available to homeowners in any stage of the foreclosure process. If the homeowner needs legal help, he or she will be referred to a lawyer. Some of the cases handled by the Center are in the pre-foreclosure stage (from default to the last couple weeks before foreclosure), others are in Circuit court (wrongful foreclosure, stay of foreclosure or ejectment), others in Bankruptcy Court (chapter 13 or dismissal), and others in the appellate courts.
Mediators assist both homeowners and servicers in their communication and document exchange, an area that seems to give homeowners the most difficulty. This can occur at any of the above stages, and it very helpful to lawyers with foreclosure clients because the mediators have been trained in the new servicer rules promulgated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The Center for Dispute Resolution currently has more than 50 mediators around the state engaged in mediating foreclosure cases. There have been more than 100 cases referred to the program since May 2014. The goals and types of resolution for these cases focus on either working with the homeowner and servicer on various options to secure a modification of the mortgage payment so homeowners can afford the mortgage, or helping homeowners have a graceful exit from the home.
The Center for Dispute Resolution also operates a Family Mediation Program, “Parents Are Forever,” which helps parents in conflict develop an action plan for raising their children. The program is open to families whose income is $85,000 or less. The primary goal is to reduce stress for children whose parents are going through a divorce. Parents work with a mediator to develop a parenting plan with parental responsibilities, support, and child time to present to a judge during proceedings.
This is essential to de-escalating conflict and helping children thrive after separation of the parents. Divorce lawyers cooperate with the mediators in representing their clients, but in collaboration, not litigation, in order to keep continued conflict in check. Judges always retain control of the case, and make sure the parenting plan is in the best interest of the children.
The Family Mediation Program was developed in 2012-13 as a partnership initiated by Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, in cooperation with Julia Weller, the Clerk of the Court. Chief Justice Moore wanted families who were in divorce or child support situations to have help as they continue to parent and guide their children after the parents are no longer together. Because the Center has a statewide network of trained family mediators, the Court asked the Center to develop a program and provide free mediation to families with children who have limited means. With a small grant from the Court, the Center pays the mediators.
Mediators, in turn, are asked to accept less than their typical hourly mediation rate, and provide some pro bono time to each case. This has ranged anywhere from half an hour to several hours per case. Judith M. Keegan, Executive Director for the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution, stated:
We have seen such positive results in a short time, and the Center remains committed, along with the Court, to continuing the Program for Alabama families. Family law is the place we can all make a difference.
For more information about either the Foreclosure Mediation Program or the Family Mediation Program, contact the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution at 334-269-0409. Free brochures and other mediator information also is available online at www.alabamamediators.org. Lawyers can contact the Center to schedule a free mediation for their clients.
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