Family conciliation is a form of alternative dispute resolution for family law disputes such as those involving divorce, child custody, abuse or other issues.  The conciliation process is typically done as an alternative to more intensive formal court hearings.   

During conciliation, the parties agree to meet with a conciliator, who is a neutral third party person trained to handle dispute resolution.  The parties meet separately with the conciliator in attempts to resolve the dispute.  The conciliator helps to do this by facilitating communication, interpreting factual and legal issues, providing advice, and suggesting potential solutions.  The conciliator may also propose a negotiated settlement to each side for their approval.

How Does Family Law Conciliation Work?

A common conciliation method is for the conciliator to meet individually with each party.  The conciliator then instructs each party to create a list of goals or objectives that they want to accomplish through the negotiation process.  Each party will then place each goal in order of priority (the order is usually different for each party). 

After this, the conciliator will go back and forth between each of the parties and encourages them to reach an agreement on each objective.  This may involve one party having to sacrifice or forfeit their own needs in order for the parties to reach an overall agreement.  In this way, several of the more important aspects in the case get resolved.  The process works because the parties are often able to build confidence in one another after a string of successful agreements.

Is Conciliation Different From Mediation or Arbitration?

Mediation and arbitration are also forms of alternative dispute resolution.  They are all very similar in that they act as an alternative or as a supplement to the standard trial process.  However, conciliation is different from mediation as well as arbitration in many aspects.

For example, conciliation is different from the arbitration process because conciliation is not legally binding on the parties.  The conciliator generally has no authority to request evidence, make any binding legal decisions, call upon witnesses, or issue awards to the parties.  In contrast, arbitration is much more formal and can be legally binding upon the parties.

Conciliation is also different from mediation.  With conciliation, in the focus is to have the parties be reconciled, often through them making compromises or concessions.  In mediation, the mediator simply guides the discussion between the parties, who may still be unwilling to make a compromise on some issues. 

Also, in conciliation, the parties do not meet each other face to face across a table in the same room like they do in mediation.  The meetings with the conciliator are usually done separately during the conciliation process.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Conciliation and Family Law Issues?

Family law conciliation is technically done outside of the normal court procedures.  However, it is generally still necessary to work with a lawyer during the conciliation process.  An experienced family law attorney can provide legal advice and guidance, and can review the various agreements that may have been reached.  Also, a lawyer can provide representation in court if the conciliation process proves to be unsuccessful, or if there are outstanding issues to be resolved in court.