The Importance of Family Mediators

Mediator explains process to co-parent.

Mediation is not a new concept. Informally, it's prevalent for people dealing with a dispute to turn to a neutral third-party for help in resolving it. In a more formal setting, mediation can be an excellent option for families facing significant transitions like divorce.

Family mediation is a popular form of alternative dispute resolution that is often used in the United States as a substitute for going to court to settle a divorce case or as a supplement to that process. Unlike a judge in a courtroom, a mediator is not there to make decisions for the parties. Their role is to assist the parties in coming to resolutions that work for each of them. Also, unlike attorneys, mediators do not take sides between the parties. They are there to assist both individuals mutually by maintaining a neutral stance.

Whether parents are mandated to try mediation before heading to court, or they elected to try this process on their own, mediation can offer unique benefits to those taking part in it.

Benefits of Family Mediation

Many divorcing parents use mediation to work out agreements on matters like parenting time, child support, alimony, division of assets, and other issues that are impacted by their separation. The mediator and both parents will meet as a group during joint sessions; some mediators may elect to have a one-on-one meeting with each parent to build trust and help them each prepare for the group meetings.

The number of sessions it takes to finalize the process varies for each situation, but the end goal for many involved in family mediation is to prepare a parenting agreement that can be presented to the court for approval. While this process may not be without difficult moments, mediation can prove to be less painful and leave both parents feeling more satisfied with the results moving forward.

Mediation can reduce divorce costs

Litigation can be notoriously expensive. Costs like lawyer fees, private investigation, expert testimonies, court and filing fees, and even paper copies can add up quickly, quickly raising the price tag of the divorce. The adversarial nature of litigation could prolong the length of the case, creating more fees for each party the longer it continues.

Beyond these costs, one or both parties involved may find themselves having to make purchases to help retain their style of life before divorce such as renting a new home and furnishing it. The thought of these fees alone might make some people even wonder if they can afford a divorce.

Alternatively, mediation can be a more cost-effective way to handle a divorce. The parties only have one mediator to pay for their services together, as opposed to both paying lawyers and other court-related fees individually. Fewer individual fees can make mediation a much more affordable option.

Mediation can be flexible

A case litigated in court isn't a very flexible process. Before even being able to schedule a trial date, parties may attend one or more sessions of a scheduling conference. A scheduling conference allows the court to begin tracking the case and get an idea of how complicated it could be. During this conference, parties may also be requested to try some form of alternative dispute resolution to provide some opportunity to settle the case without even reaching trial.

If the parties must go to trial, it's crucial that they do make it to court on the date they are requested to appear. Missing a court date can have negative consequences for the party who did not show up, and asking for a trial date to be rescheduled can be complicated.

Mediation might not lead to agreements after the first meeting, but it's more likely to be a faster and flexible process when compared to litigation. A trial could take months or even years, while parents engaged in effective mediation may find themselves reaching agreements within a few sessions. Parties are more capable of selecting meeting dates that work with their schedules. Plus, the meetings can be more flexible than a formal trial, allowing the parties to brainstorm resolutions and communicate openly.

Mediation empowers parents to communicate and craft agreements that work for their family

Litigation leaves it up to a judge to finalize parenting agreements by which both sides have to abide. A judge will consider many factors when crafting an agreement, and one of which is commonly the well-being of the children who will be impacted by the agreement. While that is a pivotal point to consider, a judge's point of view on a case might not take every aspect of a family's lifestyle into account. This could leave parents with an agreement that doesn't leave either side feeling satisfied.

Mediation does leave more room for parents to find unique solutions to the specific issues their family is facing. The mediator will be there to discuss options with the parents, encouraging cooperation and openness throughout the process.

As parents work together in mediation and find workable solutions for their family, their children also receive the benefit of seeing their parents cooperate. This can lead to more interactive co-parenting and help keep the children moving forward in a healthy way, as opposed to witnessing arguments and sensing the tension between their two homes.

If mediation is not working, it may not be a complete failure

Although family mediation is an excellent alternative for some, it may not be a solution that works for all cases. Mediation is a process that often works best when both sides are communicating their needs and are open to some degree of compromise. As flexible as the parents may try to be throughout the process, mediation may not be without its pitfalls. This could leave parents without reaching final agreements on all points they need to work out. 

If parents aren't able to finalize every detail, it's possible that some matters were resolved and some decisions reached. This can be a positive step towards a final agreement, even if the parents find themselves going to trial to work out the issues left to be resolved. Fewer agreements left to work out in court can potentially mean a speedier trial.

In a situation where mediation is proving to be unsuccessful, you may want to address this concern during one of your sessions. If you do intend to take your case to trial, find a family law attorney in your area who can assist you in bringing your case to court.

Family mediation isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to settling a divorce, but it can provide a number of benefits to those who enter the process. It can offer lower costs, more flexibility, and show your children that you can communicate and work together. Even if you can't make it work completely, mediation can hopefully lead to some agreements and a shorter, less painful trial process, if it comes to that.