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Volunteer Settlement Master (VSM) Process

Overview

The Volunteer Settlement Master process (the VSM process) helps divorcing spouses and unmarried couples with children to resolve their custody and financial issues by making fair and workable agreements with each other, as an alternative to litigating those issues before the Family Court of the First Circuit (the Family Court).

The VSM process was initially established in 2004 through a collaboration between the Family Court and the Family Law Section (the FLS) of the Hawaii State Bar Association, and it has been successfully utilized by the Family Court ever since. The Mediation Center of the Pacific (MCP) provides administrative support for the VSM process.

Licensed attorney members of the FLS appointed by the Senior Judge of the Family Court serve as VSMs. A VSM will typically be appointed by the Family Court following a conference conducted in response to a request by one divorcing spouse to set the case for trial. The Family Court may also assign a VSM to address pre-divorce, post-divorce and paternity issues.

A VSM serves without compensation. A VSM may not be called as a witness, although he or she may confer with the assigned settlement judge, in an effort to settle the case. The VSM process is confidential. No participant in the VSM process may reveal offers in an effort to settle the case, if it is not successful.

The Process

The VSM process begins with the entry of a stipulated “Order Appointing Volunteer Settlement Master.” The appointment order describes the duties and responsibilities of the VSM, involved counsel (if any), and the spouses. The VSM is selected by the Family Court on a random basis. Any VSM will not be assigned more than one case per quarter. In some cases, the parties and the VSM will agree to his or her appointment. The appointment order is served on the VSM, who schedules a meeting with the parties and their involved counsel (if any). The Family Court informs MCP of each VSM appointment so that MCP can track the VSM process in every case where a VSM is assigned.

Each spouse involved in the VSM process, and his or her counsel (if any), must thoroughly prepare for the meeting with the VSM. In advance of the meeting with the VSM, each spouse must provide the VSM with (a) a confidential settlement letter describing his or her true settlement position, (b) his or her current Asset and Debt Statement, (c) his or her current Income and Expense Statement, (d) a current Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (if applicable), and (e) his or her most recent written settlement proposal. Each spouse may also provide the VSM with anything else he or she regards as useful.

A VSM can, but is not required to, volunteer more than 3.5 hours of his or her time to the case. A VSM may withdraw from service at any time he or she in his or her sole discretion deems it appropriate.

The VSM process is concluded, and the VSM is discharged, when the VSM submits his or her “Report from Volunteer Settlement Master.” This report indicates when the meeting with the VSM occurred, and who attended the meeting, if a meeting did in fact occur, and if one did, whether or not an agreement was reached on some or all issues. In the event of such an agreement, the parties are required to reduce it to writing, either by a signed Divorce Decree, or other signed stipulated order, and present it to the Family Court within thirty (30) days of the submission of the VSM’s report.

When the VSM submits his or her report, he or she will also complete a “Questionnaire for Volunteer Settlement Master.” This questionnaire indicates the extent to which the parties reached agreement on some or all of the issues in their divorce. This questionnaire indicates up to six (6) positive things that potentially came out of the VSM process, even though a complete agreement was not reached. This questionnaire also indicates up to six (6) things that may have prevented a complete agreement on all the issues in the divorce. This questionnaire affords the VSM the opportunity to provide constructive feedback with respect to the involved assignment, and the VSM process as a whole.

When the VSM completes his or her report, he or she will also provide the spouses, and the involved attorneys, with a “Questionnaire for VSM Participants.” This questionnaire asks the spouses, and the involved counsel, to rate the VSM process in eight (8) different ways regarding its effectiveness.

The “Questionnaire for Volunteer Settlement Master,” and the completed “Questionnaire for VSM Participants,” are both provided to MCP, which will collate the data provided, and use it to improve the VSM process.

Questions and comments about the VSM process should be directed to the The Mediation Center of the Pacific at 521-6767.