Family Law Mediation

by R. Keith Spencer

Families going through a divorce or separation frequently must devise co-parenting plans to ensure continuity of care for children of multiple households. Simple matters, like consistent bedtimes and nighttime routines, are very important for children struggling to cope with a fractured household. However, it is often difficult for parents to set aside differences long enough to discuss and resolve such issues while struggling themselves to adapt to their new roles as single parents. Mediation allows parents the opportunity to craft child care plans tailored to their child’s specific needs and schedules rather than forcing the court to impose a generic and impersonal set of guidelines.

Mediation is a dispute resolution process that utilizes an impartial mediator specifically trained to work with cases involving children. Frequently, the parents are placed in separate rooms while the mediator shuttles back and forth between the two. Thus, parties and their advisors do not have to engage in face-to-face confrontations during the mediation process. Issues of child support, visitation, discipline, bedtimes, supervision, residency restrictions, extracurricular activities, travel and education can be addressed based upon the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the individual family. Recognizing that parents can make better decisions for their kids than can judges, mediation places the parents in charge of these life-changing decisions.

Family attorneys may refer their clients to a number of programs that prepare parents for their new roles as single parents and provide them with vital tools to promote effective co-parenting., and provide services and links to many organizations specializing in helping parents adapt to the co-parenting process. Many attorneys use these services to assist in the preparation of child care proposals, which will form the first proposals at mediation sessions.

Most family courts require the involved parties to attempt mediation prior to trial. Mediators vary widely in cost and experience. Local Dispute Resolution Centers provide a low-cost mediation experience. However, the mediators may or may not be attorneys and may or may not be familiar with family court. Retired judges frequently serve as mediators, utilizing their special knowledge and experience to assist parents. Such mediators are generally more expensive and may cost each party in excess of $500 per mediation session. It is important to note that mediators do not render decisions or rulings. Rather, they simply assist the parties in crafting a workable agreement. It is up to the parties to reach that agreement. Failure to do so simply means that the court will have to make the important decisions instead of the parties.

What is said in mediation stays in mediation. Settlement conferences and mediation sessions are privileged, and statements made or offers discussed in mediation cannot be raised at trial by either party. This promotes a free exchange of ideas without the necessity of posturing to protect one’s position at trial.

It is important to note that most family law cases ultimately settle before trial. Thus, employing mediation early in the process can save the parties the significant money and heartache that accompany protracted litigation.