Mandatory Mediation in a Family Law Case
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What Is Mandatory Mediation?
Mediation allows two conflicting parties to discuss their differences through the intervention of a neutral third party facilitator. Through mediation, the parties attempt to reach an agreement, compromise, or settlement in order to avoid the litigation process.
Mediation can occur:
- Through a voluntary agreement between the parties
- As part of a community program
- By court order
- By statutory requirement
Here, the first two types of mediations listed are considered voluntary, since the parties are not forced to enter into the mediation process. The last two are considered mandatory, since the parties are required by law or court order to attend the mediation meetings.
However, the term “mandatory” can be somewhat misleading. Mandatory mediation does not mean that the parties actually have to reach an agreement by the end of the mediation sessions. Instead, mandatory implies that the parties will exercise a good faith effort to actively participate in mediation before trial.
If the parties can’t reach an understanding by the end of the mediation process, they will then have to resort to the legal process.
When Is Mandatory Family Mediation Used?
In a family law setting, a judge may often prescribe mandatory mediation in connection with child custody issues. For example, the parties may be required to formulate a child custody schedule, which will then be presented for approval in court during formal hearings. This is probably the most common usage of mandatory mediation in a family law claim.
Other situations where mediation may be mandatory can include:
- Calculating child support
- Calculating spousal support after or in anticipation of divorce
- Creating a child visitation schedule
- Allowing parties to peaceably discuss past instances of abuse or infidelity
Finally, some state statutes may require mandatory mediation if the dispute involves financial matters falling within a certain range of dollar amounts. Each state will have different laws and statutes when it comes to mandatory mediation.
What If I Don’t Attend a Mandatory Mediation Session?
Complying with court orders and state statutes is very important. If you don’t attend a mandatory mediation session, it could lead to very serious consequences. These may include a contempt of court order or other similar measures. Contempt of court is punishable by a court fine and sometimes detention in a jail facility.
Skipping mandatory mediation may also negatively affect the outcome of your case. In very extreme cases, the court may even decide a case against a person who repeatedly fails to attend mandatory mediation or other family law conferences. You may need to consult with your lawyer if think you have a valid reason to miss a mandatory mediation session.
Again, the point of mandatory mediation is not necessarily for the parties to reach a final agreement. In fact, many issues may be purposely left unresolved, to be determined later in court. However, it is important that you participate in the mediation.
If you show up at the mediation but refuse to speak or try to sabotage the mediation, then you would not be complying with the court order. You are expected to make a good faith effort to discuss and reach an agreement.
Therefore you should make your best efforts to attend mandatory mediation sessions, in order to help the process run smoothly.
Do I Have to Attend Mandatory Mediation If the Other Party Is Abusing Me?
Domestic violence and mandatory mediation is an issue that is addressed differently between states. Some states will require that judges screen out domestic violence cases so that the abuser and the victim are not forced to talk with one another.
Other states rely on the mediators to end the session if they suspect there is domestic violence between the parties. A few states might not have any rules regarding domestic violence and mandatory mediation, leaving the decision entirely to the judge.
If you are ordered to engage in mandatory mediation and the other party has abused you, you should speak with legal counsel right away.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Mandatory Mediation in a Family Law Case?
You will most likely want to consult with a family lawyer if you must attend mandatory mediation. Your lawyer can provide you with valuable guidance prior to the meetings, and can also be present during mediation if needed. Also, your lawyer can represent you in court if legal proceedings become necessary.
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Last Modified: 03-23-2015 11:38 AM PDT
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