Often mediation is a tool used to settle divorce and child custody cases. Some parties willingly submit to mediation, while others are ordered by the court to mediate the case prior to having a final hearing. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that allows each party to have some control in reaching an agreement, rather than leaving the decision to the Judge. These are negotiations, which means that at a successful mediation, neither party leaves feeling like they won.
In most family court mediations, the parties and their attorneys are in separate rooms. The Mediator moves between the two. This is beneficial because tensions are usually high and, it is much easier to speak frankly with the Mediator outside of the opposing party’s presence. The Mediator’s job is to encourage the parties to settle and facilitate a settlement that is beneficial for all parties involved. The Mediator does not discuss anything you say with the opposing party unless you give him or her permission to discuss it with them. The Mediator listens to both sides and, relays offers and counteroffers back and forth between the parties. Either a settlement is reached or the parties reach an impasse, and a good Mediator realizes settlement is impossible. This can be a long process. Be prepared, bring a book, and make sure your cell phone is charged.
If a settlement is reached, the Mediator will draft the settlement, and both parties will sign. At that point, it is a binding agreement and all parties are to act within the bounds of the agreement. Once you reach an Agreement and sign, it is very difficult to retract. If a settlement is not reached, the parties walk away and prepare for a final hearing. Nothing that occurs during the mediation can be used as evidence in a final hearing. This is to facilitate the parties’ willingness to negotiate to reach an agreement that all parties can live with.
Throughout the mediation, your attorney is there to help you negotiate to get what you ultimately need and to ensure that any settlement reached is in your best interest.