Family mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution involving a neutral third party who is appointed to intercede between two conflicting parties. The goal of mediation is for the parties to resolve their differences in a non-confrontational manner in order to reach a mutual agreement. This is especially important in situations where preserving family relations is a priority.
Mediation may be utilized in various family law disputes such as divorce, child custody and support arrangements, property disputes, and will contests. The mediator is usually a lawyer or a counselor who specializes in family law. It is a viable alternative to litigation as it saves time and money. Mediation is usually not mandatory, and agreements formed as a result of family mediation are not legally binding on the parties.
A mediation is benefitial because it is an alternative to the traditional litigation process. A mediation is less hostile, less confrontational between the parties, and less costly. Mediation can also be more flexible and efficient since both parties usually come to a mutual agreement in one mediation setting.
Family mediation sessions can last anywhere from less than one day to several weeks, depending on the nature of the conflict. It is in everyone’s best interest to come to the meetings well-prepared and open to communicating with the other parties.
It is important to listen to the input of the other party, as this may help you obtain a better outcome than proceeding in an argumentative fashion. Some other areas of preparation include:
- Selecting a mediator: Be sure to select a mediator who is not materially invested in the outcome of the mediation. This is usually a lawyer, but sometimes a counselor or other professional may be appointed. It is important to meet with the mediator beforehand
- Understanding the interests of both parties: The parties should strive to reach an agreement that is suitable for all participants. This may involve researching the other person’s situation as well as taking up compromises if necessary
- Knowing your minimum acceptance terms: Family mediation often involves negotiation over items such as the amount of alimony or child support payments and visitation arrangements. Be sure to employ basic negotiation skills
- Documentation and paperwork: It helps to collect documents that you feel may be important for your case, such as receipts and certificates. Also, you may wish to provide detailed accounts of any related incidences or events
- Formalizing agreements: Sometimes the parties in will wish to state the terms of negotiation in a mediation agreement, either before or after the sessions. You may wish to have these agreements formalized in a legal contract
Finally, while it is not required, it is highly recommended that both parties obtain legal representation before entering into the mediation discussions. A lawyer can help you prepare your case as well as anticipate the responses of other persons. You should not sign any contracts or agreements unless you are represented by a lawyer.
Mediation and arbitration are both alternative ways for reaching a conclusion without going through traditional litigation. Both mediation and arbitration have a neutral third party that will assist with the whole process. However, a mediation usually is non-binding meaning that the decision is not final if there is one.
An arbitration is a binding process meaning that a decision cannot be changed or appealed if either party thinks its not right or fair. An arbitration also is conducted by a panel of arbitrators that look at all the evidence like a judge and come to a decision or majority vote. A mediation usually have one mediator that makes the decision and helps assist with a mutual decision.
Many people enter into a mediation contract before the whole mediation process has started. It is basically a contract between both mediating parties that come to a mutual agreement of the mediation. The contract usually defines that:
- The mediation is confidential and non-binding
- Parties agreement that a specific mediator will assist with the process
- How the mediator will be paid and what the cost is
- Parties agreement on how long the mediation should be ( half-day or full day)
- Parties agreement that both parties will act in good faith and in a reasonable manner
- An agreement of what the parties will do if they do not come to a mutual agreement
At the end of the family mediation process, ideally the parties should have reached some sort of agreement regarding the dispute, such as setting the amount of child support due each month or dividing up child visitation times. Such agreements are not legally binding on the parties unless they are processed with all the formal requirements of a legal contract. Alternatively, they can request the court to formalize the agreement in a court order.
If a mediation agreement is violated, the parties may wish to take additional steps such as re-entering mediation. Alternatively, they may wish to hire an arbitrator to settle the dispute. If the agreement has been formalized in a contract or court order, a violation may be grounds for a lawsuit or other court proceeding.
If you and the other party to the dispute want to enter into a mediation process rather than take your dispute to court, both parties should get advise from their own attorney on whether a mediation process is more benefitial than litigation. Then locate a mediator and prepare a pre-mediation contract with the other party prior to the scheduled mediation.
Mediation can be a useful tool in resolving conflicts with another family member. Family law disputes can often involve important matters such as child custody issues or property matters. For this reason, it is important that you contact a family lawyer early on in the process so that they will be able to assist you throughout all the steps. An experienced attorney can help you obtain meet your objectives while minimizing further conflicts with other participants.