In divorce or child custody cases, family mediation is often required as a way to resolve the parents’ disputes out of court. Family mediation occurs when the parents meet with an objective, trained person in an attempt to settle their dispute. The mediator can be a lawyer, social worker, or someone else trained in mediation practice.
The mediator does not represent either parent. Instead, the family mediator works with the parents to compromise rather than litigate. The judge expects both parents to give a good faith effort in family mediation. However, the mediator does not have the authority to make orders or force the parents to agree. Even if the parents resole their dispute in mediation, the agreement is written and sent to the judge for review and entry.
All communications and discussions with the mediator are confidential. If family mediation fails, no communications can be used as evidence later on. The reason for this rule is to encourage the parents to compromise and change their positions without fear that they will appear “weak,” or that a willingness to accept a different outcome will be used against them later.
Family mediation may be ordered twice during a family dispute. First, mediation is ordered at the beginning of a divorce or custody case. Some courts even refuse to schedule a hearing until the parents first try mediation. If the first mediation fails, the parents can try again later by using either a privately-hired mediator or a mediator from programs available in the county.
In most cases, mediation is an excellent option. It is usually a more relaxed environment than a courtroom, is less expensive, and focuses more on problem-solving than the extreme positions often held in court. I often use family mediation to resolve cases for my clients, and I have acted as a mediator for other families.