The Los Angeles County Superior Court system is launching a free online tool to help parents who are trying to negotiate and resolve child custody disputes and visitation issues without coming to court, officials said Wednesday.

Beginning May 18, parents and attorneys may initiate a negotiation invitation through the Online Dispute Resolution program in which the other party will receive an emailed invitation to participate.

If both parents agree on a plan, the ODR tool will generate a parenting plan agreement that the parents may file with the court through U.S. mail, fax or drop box outside the courthouse. The plan would become a court order if accepted.

Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile lauded the court’s chief executive officer, Sherri R. Carter, with finding an online solution to try to assist parents to resolve their child custody disputes.

“The court is not currently scheduling or conducting child custody mediations as part of essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brazile said in a statement. “This new online tool is another way the court is continuing to offer convenient, safe ways to help Los Angeles County residents access justice from anywhere, which helps to promote social distancing in our courthouses.”

The program will be accessible later this month at www.lacourt.org/division/familylaw/familylaw.aspx.

The program offers an alternative to mediation appointments and allows the parties to resolve their cases much sooner, according to the court.

If parents are not able to resolve all child custody and visitation disputes through the online tool, they will be required to attend a Family Court Services mediation appointment in-person at a future date. In-person mediation appointments are scheduled many months from now due to COVID-19 restrictions that prioritize essential, time-sensitive matters, according to the court.

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