Mediation is a useful tool in Family Law cases. It helps parties understand each side, identify the issues that need resolution, collaborate to resolve the issues, and amicably determine the outcome of the case. Most cases that mediate are resolved in mediation.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a process through which an uninterested third party (the mediator) facilitates communication and problem solving between the parties in order to reach a mutually agreed upon resolution (an agreement).
The Mediation Process
Before the Mediation
A mediator may be assigned to your case through court, or you or your attorney may hire and choose a particular mediator. The assigned or chosen mediator must be acceptable to each party. Before a mediation, the mediator will sometimes ask for a written statement of a party’s position on the issues. Other times, a mediator will not want any information on the case before the mediation.
During the Mediation
At the first meeting, the mediator will typically begin by welcoming the participants. Participants can include the parties, their attorneys, and anyone else the parties agree to include. The participants will introduce themselves and the mediator will explain the process.
After introductions, some mediators ask the participants to separate, while other mediators will keep them together. The participants typically start by telling the mediator what brought them to mediation and to identify what they hope to accomplish. Through the process, the participants will often negotiate and collaborate to resolve the issues they identified.
After the Mediation
If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator, the parties, or the attorneys will draft an agreement to sign. The parties can reach an agreement on some or all of the issues. If the parties do not reach an agreement or only reach an agreement on some of the issues, the parties might agree to meet again for mediation, there may be negotiations between the parties or their attorneys, or the case may proceed to trial.
The Benefits of Mediation
- A chance to be heard: you tell your story in your own words
- An opportunity to understand the other side’s position
- A better outcome: the parties agree upon and decide the outcome
- Quicker Settlement: many cases resolve through mediation and do not proceed to trial
- Lower Costs: the case could settle during mediation, avoiding trial costs
- Mediation is confidential: statements you make in mediation cannot be used against you in trial
- It is voluntary: you are not obligated to mediate (unless ordered by a court) or to reach an agreement
When to Use Mediation
Mediation can be useful at any stage of a family law case. In the beginning of a case, mediation can be useful to identify the issues and obstacles to achieving a resolution. Sometimes, the parties use mediation when negotiations have stalled. Before trial, some people are more willing to make larger concessions than in the beginning of the case in order to avoid the costs, hassle and emotional toll of a trial.
Remember to have an experienced Family Law Attorney accompany you to mediation in order to protect your interests or, at a minimum, have a Family Law Attorney review an agreement before you sign it. A signed agreement is a contract and you will not be released from fulfilling its obligations just because you no longer agree or did not seek legal advice.