Mediation is an out-of-court procedure by which parties to a family law dispute can discuss their issues and, ideally, reach a mutually agreeable settlement. There are a number of benefits to mediation versus the traditional route of litigating your divorce or family law case in court. If you have a domestic matter on the horizon – from child custody to division of marital assets – it is strongly recommended that you consider some of the advantages of mediation. Cohen Family Law takes a look at a few here.
What is Mediation?
To fully appreciate the benefits of mediation, it helps to understand a few basics about it. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, in which family law litigants meet with a neutral third party (the mediator) to discuss and hopefully settle the issues arising out of their divorce, child custody, or other matter.
The mediator has no power to issue any court orders or compel the parties to agree to anything. Instead, his or her role is to find common ground between the parties, explain the benefits of settling versus the risks of going to court, and devise creative solutions to complex family law problems. The mediator does not represent either party and must ethically remain neutral. However, the plaintiff and defendant can have their attorneys attend mediation with them. This is strongly advised so you can understand the terms of any settlements reached and confer privately with your lawyer about any questions or concerns you have.
Parties can agree to settle as many or as few issues as they want. Anything settled will be reduced to a written agreement that the judge will review and, if approved, entered as a court order. Anything not settled will be tried by the court unless the parties agree later to retry mediation.
Mediation is a confidential process, which allows the parties to candidly discuss issues and make settlement offers without the fear of those offers later being used against them. For instance, say you offer your spouse $800/month in alimony. You are not able to come to an agreement so you go to court to try the alimony claim. In court, your spouse tries to mention the $800/month that you offered in mediation. Your attorney can invoke the confidentiality protection to have your offer excluded from the court’s consideration.
Why Choose Mediation?
Compared to trying a case in court, there are several possible benefits to mediation. These include:
- Saving time and money. Court dockets are often crowded and it can take weeks or even months to try cases. Mediation, by contrast, can more quickly resolve family law issues. This, in turn, will save you money in lawyer and court fees. Also, the settlement you work out may be more financially advantageous to you versus something a judge might order.
- Avoiding stress. Divorce, child custody, and related matters are hard on everyone, especially the children. The sooner your family law case is settled, the better it is for all parties involved. Mediation generally takes place in the more relaxed setting of a law office, which is far less stressful on the plaintiff and defendant.
- Protecting privacy. Since mediations are confidential, they can avoid the embarrassment of a public trial. This is important where, for instance, awkward and uncomfortable accusations have been made between spouses (e.g. infidelity) or where the spouses have substantial wealth that they’d rather not be publicly broadcast in court.
- Settling matters on your terms. A family law judge will never understand your legal issues as well as you do. The individuals who are best positioned to decide the outcome of their cases are the parties themselves. Your mediated settlement will still be subject to court review and approval, especially where custody and child support are involved. But litigants can generally decide how to resolve matters as they see fit, rather than letting a judge do so.
- Promoting productive communication. Mediation helps family law litigants work together rather than against each other. This can pay substantial dividends down the road, especially if you and your spouse or partner have children together. If you can successfully use mediation once, you can use it again down the line when disagreements arise. So mediation facilitates positive communication and lays a foundation for working out future disputes.
- Preparing for trial. Even though communications that take place during mediation are generally confidential, an unsuccessful mediation can help you get ready for a trial. You will have an understanding of the evidence and arguments the other party is likely to make in court, and can prepare accordingly.
- Legal counsel. Your lawyer is able to attend mediation with you and provide legal advice on arguments made by the other party and propose settlement offers. Your attorney can also explain the terms of a settlement agreement if one is reached at the conclusion of mediation.
- Neutral mediator. Since the mediator has no personal stake in the outcome of your family law case, this enables him or her to provide objective, dispassionate advice. This can help you see things from a different perspective and, with the help of your lawyer, fully understand the benefits of a mediated settlement versus the risks of trying your case in court.
Contact Our Phoenix Family Law Mediation Attorney
You owe it to yourself, your family, and the ultimate outcome of your domestic matter to consider family law mediation. We can serve as a neutral mediator in your case or represent you and your interests during mediation proceedings. Find out why so many Arizonans trust us to serve their domestic legal needs. Call Cohen Family Law today.