Family Court Mediation Services

Dr. Dennis E. Bills is an experienced, non-attorney mediator approved by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to receive referrals from the Family Court of the West Virginia Judiciary. He provides mediation services for divorcing and unmarried parents.   If you need mediation services, contact Dr. Bills at 304-220-0115 or email dbills (at)

What is Family Court Mediation?

Divorcing or unmarried parents who cannot agree on a parenting plan will be referred by the Court to a mediator. Mediation is a structured, problem-solving process in which the parents, assisted by a trained, neutral third-party, are provided an opportunity to reach an agreement on how to share parenting of their children after the divorce. 

Mediation has three potential advantages that may make life easier for parents:
  • Mediation may reduce the cost of attorneys' fees and court appearances. 
  • Mediation may reduce the hassle, stress, and time of adjudicating a divorce in a family court.
  • Mediation may allow parents to determine for themselves the care of their children, instead of having terms of care dictated by the Court. 
Parents who cannot submit a mutually agreeable plan to the Court will face the difficult prospect of having shared-parenting decisions determined for them by a judge.   It is possible that such decisions may not be satisfactory to either party.  Therefore, mediation affords divorcing parents the best opportunity to accomplish what they desire for their children of their own free will.

If the parties desire, mediators can also mediate property, financial, or other disagreements, but cannot mediate these and a parenting plan on the same occasion. 

How Does Mediation Get Started?

In the case of court-ordered mediation, a screener will double-check to make sure that mediation is appropriate.  The screener will then set up the time and place for the parents to meet with Dr. Bills within a couple of weeks.  He will probably contact you to confirm the date and time.   The meeting may be in the courthouse or in a mutually agreeable location.  Generally, only the parents will attend, so childcare should be arranged ahead of time.   

Mediation can also be initiated by the parties prior to filing a Petition for Modification to an existing parenting plan. Most parenting plans contain a clause requiring the parties to pursue mediation before the Court will schedule a hearing pursuant to a receipt of a Petition for Modification. 

Parents without an existing parenting plan can also initiate mediation prior to any parenting related hearing. This can potentially reduce the time, cost, and number of hearings necessary to establish a court ordered parenting plan. 

To initiate mediation, contact Dr. Bills. 

What does Mediation Look Like?

Parents will sit at a table along with the mediator in a comfortable, informal environment. Dr. Bills will guide and encourage the discussion, helping to keep it cordial, until an agreement is reached.   The discussion is free-flowing and informal, unlike in a court of law where parents may not get to voice their thoughts.  The discussion is confidential. That means that the parents can talk about things without fear that they will be brought up in court.  It also means that Dr. Bills cannot be called by either parent to provide testimony in court and what the parties say to or in front of one another cannot be used against each other.  The only thing the judge will see is the final agreement.

No other persons other than the parties (i.e. attorneys, grandparents, significant others, children) will be permitted to attend the mediation unless the parties and the mediator agree. 

Parents can expect to meet for about two hours. If an agreement has not been reached, time may be extended or scheduled later.  Some mediations finish sooner. In order to protect his clients' time and money, Dr. Bills will help the parties determine as quickly as possible whether an agreement will be possible. 

Do I Need an Attorney?

Mediation does not require an attorney. No other persons other than the parties (i.e. attorneys, grandparents, significant others, children) will be permitted to attend the mediation unless both parties and the mediator agree. If attorneys are permitted, they may be encouraged to keep their participation to a minimum and possibly excluded if Dr. Bills believes they might unfairly affect the balance of the discussion. However each party is encouraged to submit the resulting agreement for review by an attorney before it is given to the judge. 

When Do Mediated Agreements take effect?

Any mediated agreements are voluntary until the Court makes them official.  Before that time, the parents can change their minds, even after the mediation. However, the parents can just as easily give the agreement a test-run before the Court makes it official.  Doing so may make them aware of changes that they might like to make.  They can then either on their own or with the help of the mediator make changes to the agreement.   Judges have the final say on whether or not an agreement is made official. They have the right to make changes if they think the agreement is unfair to either parent.  Keep in mind that if a party tells a judge that he or she no longer agrees with the terms of a previously mediated agreement, additional hearings may be scheduled.  

How Much Does Mediation Cost?

Fees for mediations referred by the Court are based upon a sliding scale established by the Court.  The court order will tell you how much you will be paying. In WV, fees range from $45 to $150 per hour depending upon the combined income of the parents. Families below a certain combined income level may not have to pay anything. Needless to say, mediation is much less expensive than paying attorneys to negotiate for you. 

Mediations that are initiated by the parties are charged at $50.00 per hour, including at least one hour of administrative time, plus whatever time is spent in mediation. If the mediator must travel, he will charge a mileage fee determined by the State. 

The parents should expect to share the cost of mediation and should bring cash, check or money order to the mediation.  The mediator will collect this at the conclusion of the mediation.  Parents who do not do this will be referred back to the Court for collection. 

Can I Find Out More About Dr. Bills?

Dr. Bills was a school administrator before becoming a Presbyterian minister.  He has been trained as a mediator through a program set-up by the Supreme Court of WV as well as through Peacemaker Ministries International.   In his roles as an educator and minister, he has worked with dozens of families over the years to bring peace to damaged relationships.  He has helped people through marriage conflict, accusations of child abuse,  parent-child alienation, and many other types of interpersonal conflict.  He has a reputation for being very effective in getting to the heart of conflict problems and helping people see issues that need to be resolved.   Dr. Bills is neither a professional counselor nor an attorney, so he will not be offering therapy or legal advice. 

Can We Use a Mediator Even if We Have Not Been Referred by the Court?

You can use a mediator for anything you want--disagreements in business, church, family, etc.  Mediators can help divorcing couples develop a financial and property plan. Sometimes couples who would rather not get a divorce can use a mediator to help bring the relationship back together.   

Dr. Bills will charge $50.00 per hour for all family court mediations that are initiated by the parties rather than by the Court. 

What If It Does Not Work?

Mediators can make no promises. In fact, mediators do not give any legal advice or make any decisions for the couple.  Every decision included within a mediated agreement is totally and entirely the product of the discussion between the two parties. The success or failure of the mediation depends entirely upon the parties' willingness to work together.   Sometimes mediation does not work and the parents must rely upon the Court to make decisions for them.   It therefore preferable that parents come to mediation expecting to come to an agreement if at all possible. 

If a mediation is unsuccessful, Dr. Bills prepares a report to the Court that states only that the mediation was unsuccessful.  Because mediations are confidential, no other information will be provided to the Court.