Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution process. This means that rather than going through the entire litigation process in court, the parties use a neutral third party who will help them resolve their conflict. This third party is called a “mediator”, and is specially trained in helping parties resolve legal disputes.
In a family law context, mediation can be used to help resolve various issues including:
- Divorce issues;
- Child custody matters;
- Spousal or child support calculations;
- Visitation arrangements; and
- Various other legal concerns.
Mediation can be an effective tool for resolving many family law disputes. It is generally a shorter process than full litigation, and will generally cost the parties less money. It also can help encourage and facilitate communication and agreements between the parties involved.
Mediation can be entered into voluntarily; in some cases, the court may order the parties to engage in mediation (“court-ordered mediation”)
Most family law mediations involve an hourly or per-session fee. This can sometimes be relatively expensive if the mediator determines that there has to be a lot of sessions to resolve the ongoing dispute or if the mediator runs a private practice.
The mediations that are ordered by the court or conducted through a community-based mediation agency are not hourly and can therefore be less expensive. The agency that is provided by the court or community-based mediation usually provide very low fees. In some cases, they may even offer their services for free depending on the circumstances and the financial situations of the people involved.
Using family mediations for legal issues like divorces can be much less costly than going to court for two reasons. First, mediation generally takes much less time than litigation. This decrease in time means less hourly fees to pay the attorneys, mediators and any other professionals involved in the legal process. Second, using mediation without going to court means that you will generally not have to pay court fees. This will also save you money and other resources.
The number of mediation sessions required or suggested will depend on many factors. The number of mediation sessions will depend on:
- The type of dispute that the mediation is trying to resolve;
- The type of information needed to be gathered to negotiate an agreement or settlement; and
- What the mediator determines is needed for the issue to be resolved.
For instance, if mediation is to be used for a child custody case that involves several different children, it will of course involve more considerations. There may be more calculations involved for child support, and more planning when it comes to child custody and visitation arrangements or rights.
This of course will require more time and hours spent in mediation, which adds up to more fees. In comparison, a child custody case that only involves one child will usually require less time and resources spent.
Along the same lines, a family mediation process for a divorce where there is a lot of property to be distributed may require more time and resources spent. It all depends on the exact needs of the parties and the legal issues involved in the situation.
There are many kinds of mediators, with different levels of experience and different pricing arrangements. Many (but not all) mediators are themselves attorneys, who have developed expertise in the area of alternative dispute resolution and mediation.
Other mediators may be mental health professionals, and some are retired judges. Generally, mediators charge either by the hour or by the session. This is true regardless of whether they are lawyers, therapists, or other professionals.
Generally speaking, you do not have to pay for court-ordered mediation. If a court has ordered mediation for you, they will assign a mediator to you. However, it may often be up to you to have them screened and approved. When you select and approve a mediator, they will then help you free of charge.
There are many community-based mediation clinics and agencies throughout the country. They are generally able to handle simpler and more straight-forward disputes. For more complicated issues, however, it will be wise to consult with a private mediator with more experience, or with an attorney. Courts also usually order mediations which may usually be reduced in price and cheaper than private mediators.
But if cost is a hurdle for your family legal dispute, then remember that being friendly and minimizing the conflict is the best way to keep costs down. If you and your family member can work together to solve a common goal, then the cost of family mediation can be minimal and potentially free if the issue can be easily resolved.
In many instances, professional mediators are lawyers. Many family lawyer have gained experience in mediation of family law issues like divorces and child custody disputes. It might also be wise to consult with an experienced lawyer before engaging in mediation so you understand the issues in your case. Your attorney can provide guidance and advice to ensure that your legal rights and interests are fully protected during the mediation process.