Whether you are going through a divorce or are back in court for a post-dissolution modification, mediation usually forms a crucial part of your family law case.
What is mediation? Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where the parties and their lawyers, if represented, attend an informal, non-adversarial meeting with a neutral third party (the mediator) in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues in the case. The mediator cannot provide legal advice. The mediator’s role includes assisting the parties in identifying the issues, offering suggestions on ways to resolve those issues as well to inform the parties on settlement alternatives.
The benefits of mediation are countless. For one thing, mediation is confidential in that all the exchanged communications are confidential and may not be brought up later in court in the event there is an impasse or only a partial settlement.
Additionally, when the parties attend mediation, they are in the driver’s seat of their case in that it is the parties themselves with the assistance of the mediator and their counsel, if any, who work on creative ways in which to reach an agreement on property division, spousal support, child support, parenting plan, etc.
At mediation there are no “winners” or “losers”. There is also no “right” or “wrong” way in which to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement. Unlike a Court-imposed judgment where the Judge’s ruling tends to create “winners” and “losers” in that the Court ultimately must find against one party and in favor of the other on the various issues before the Court such as child support, spousal support and property distribution, a mediated agreement is a “win-win” outcome for both parties. Furthermore, unlike the Judge, the parties are not bound by the statutory guidelines when crafting their agreement. They can tailor their agreement to meet their unique needs and circumstances of their particular case.
It is quite common for the parties in a contested divorce or post-dissolution modification case to be skeptical about the benefits of mediation. However, even in these high-conflict cases it is prudent for the parties to take full advantage of mediation and genuinely work together toward a mutually beneficial resolution of all of their outstanding issues.
After all, any agreement that would be reached at mediation would result in a voluntary, mutually acceptable agreement. A full agreement at mediation in essence concludes the case. Although there is usually at least one more hearing before the Judge to officially ratify the agreement and incorporate it into the parties’ final judgment, that final hearing is nothing more than a routine hearing to make the parties’ agreement official and enforceable.
Consequently, mediation can be a very cost-effective way in which to resolve your case, especially since mediation tends to occur during the early stages of the case and therefore a full settlement at such an early stage of the case significantly reduces the costs that are associated with litigating a case.
So embrace mediation, be prepared for mediation and when your mediation date arrives, have an open mind, be creative and be ready to make your mediation date the date you move forward with your life having reached a full settlement on all your outstanding issues.