This guest blog was written by representatives of LegalMatch, who have been helping consumers find the right attorney on-line since 1999.
Courts are turning to mediation to help deal with the enormous amount of divorce cases facing them. And, increasingly, counties and states are making mediation before court proceedings mandatory.
What is mediation?
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process, and can be an alternative to or in addition to traditional family court processes. In mediation, the mediator, a neutral non-interested party, facilitates discussion and problem solving between the parties. Mediation is not couples counseling, and as a neutral party the mediator will not try to discourage nor encourage divorce.
The parties in mediation are not required to reach an agreement. If, however, the parties do reach an agreement, that agreement is binding and enforceable, just like a contract.
What are the benefits and difficulties with mediation?
Generally, the benefits of mediation are that parties in mediation spend less money on the divorce process, come to a resolution faster, and are happier with the results than their counterparts who opt to resolve disputes through family court.
Mediation, however, isn’t for everyone. Mediation may not be as sensitive to imbalances in power between the parties, and old dynamics of non-functioning relationships may play itself out. This is particularly a concern where one party has been abusive to the other. Illinois, for example, has a total ban on mediation of divorce where there was domestic violence.
When is mediation mandatory?
The short answer is, it depends. Whether mediation is mandatory varies from state to state, and from county to county.
Here are just a few examples of when it can be compulsory. Most states require mediation in divorce cases when there is a dispute over child custody or visitation rights, before a case is litigated. Other jurisdictions make mediation in all divorce proceedings mandatory. For example, Nassau County in New York recently began a program that requires parties to attend at least one free session of mediation before proceeding with litigation.
An experienced attorney can help you navigate your particular mediation process.
Do you need an attorney for mandatory mediation?
The choice of whether or not to have representation is a personal one. Mediation is client driven, and does not have the same complex legal rules that litigation does. But, attorneys can and do play a role in the mediation process. They can be good allies that make sure you keep your best interests at heart in the mediation. With mediation becoming more common, many lawyers have experience negotiating and being mediators themselves. Finding the right one is just a matter of looking.
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