What is Mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a neutral third-party assists individuals or groups in finding a mutually acceptable solution to their conflict. Unlike court where a judge makes a binding ruling, mediation is self-determinative, meaning the parties control the outcome which will be crafted to reflect their unique situation. The mediator’s role is to faciliate the conversations which are needed, but may be difficult to have when the parties deal with each other one on one.
How Does Mediation Work?
The parties will meet with the mediator(s) at a mutually agreeable time and place. Each party will first be given an opportunity to speak uniterrupted and then to answer questions from the mediator and the other side with the goal of everyone fully understanding each other’s needs and rationale for their desired outcomes. Thereafter, the parties will brainstorm regarding possible solutions and ultimately create a mutually acceptable arrangement to address the identified issues. The mediator will then prepare a written agreement which the parties can sign and implement informally, review and edit with their own attorneys, and/or present to a Court for incorporation into an Order.
The mediator is a neutral third-party who does not represent either side and cannot offer legal advice. Mediators may or may not be attorneys. They can provide legal information, but not recommendations on what course of action a party should take or how their rights might be affected. . Parties are strongly encouraged to seek counsel from an attorney of their own choosing.
Benefits of Mediation
It is estimated that a couple with assets and children will spend upwards of $100,000 in legal fees to fully litigate a divorce. Mediation is a much more affordable option because the mediator charges significantly less an hour than a family law practitioner and the cost is usually shared between the parties. Further, substantially less hours are required when the parties agree to focus on a solution instead of battling over every area of disagreement through their attorneys and in the court room.
Litigation of a divorce or child custody/visitation case through the court generally takes 1 to 2 years, and even longer if there are appeals. Mediation is usually conducted in two hour sessions. With a standard family law case involving custody, visitation, support and division of property, most couples are able to reach a resolution in 4-6 sessions. If only one or two of these issues are in dispute, then reaching an agreement may only require several sessions.
Mediation sessions are scheduled pursuant to the parties’ availability whereas court hearings are set to the Judge’s and the attorneys’ calendars and will require the parties to repeatedly miss work and be forced to make special childcare arrangements.
Parties maintain control over the mediation process including the decision to participate, when to meet, what to discuss, and most importantly, how to resolve their issues. When parties turn to the Court, the Judge will control all of these factors culminating in a binding decision that neither party may find acceptable.