Mediation is a non-adversarial process for resolving disputes. It is an alternative to going to trial, and is particularly useful if the parties to the dispute want to carry on a relationship in the future. An impartial person, called a mediator, assists the parties in identifying common goals and interests. With the identification of common interests or concerns, the parties can begin to find areas in which they can come together. Agreement on small issues often leads to agreement on larger issues. The key to the mediation process is that the parties are communicating and making their own decisions — there is no judge or other third party to make the decisions. The mediators are present only to help the parties communicate their ideas, and to offer options which will minimize the possibility of future disputes.
In family law mediation, the spouses or co-parents meet together in a safe and comfortable environment with a neutral and impartial mediation professional who will guide and assist them in considering each of the issues the legal system requires them to resolve as part of their divorce, child custody or parenting, or child support dispute.
There are substantial advantages of mediation over the traditional adversarial approach to divorce, or of litigation of parenting and support disputes, including:
Cost-Efficiency: Family and divorce mediation is extremely cost-effective. Separate meetings with separate attorneys, their telephone calls with the parties and each other, settlement conferences and preparations for court– all inherent to the litigated approach to divorce — necessitate a great deal of two professionals’ time and expense. In contrast, mediation, relying as it does on direct communication and the mediator’s skill in keeping the dialog constructive and focused, accelerates the conclusion of divorce or parenting disputes. Almost always, this affords very substantial cost savings, making divorce mediation a truly affordable alternative.
Preservation of Control: Family and divorce mediation preserves control over the parties’ individual and family’s futures. Together, the spouses or co-parents will make the choices for the future such as how they will make major decisions about their children, how they will share time with them, how they will arrange for their children’s support or for their own support, and how property should be divided and debts assigned. All these matters are determined by the parties, directly, and without control by lawyers or orders of judges.
Satisfying Solutions: Cooperative face-to-face problem-solving often allows for more detailed planning and more creative and satisfactory outcomes. At the Law Offices of Brian N. Chase, for example, we work with specially designed software that helps the parties determine child support consistent with California law, the very same software utilized by the courts. We also work with the parties’ accountants and tax advisers to formulate a settlement that will allow both parties to take the advantage of the tax laws with respect to their property division and support obligations . In the collaborative work of family mediation, it is much easier to discuss the parties’ separate visions of their after-divorce needs and circumstances, and then structure agreements to achieve significant tax savings for both parties. Often, this sort of cooperative planning will pay for the entire costs of the mediated divorce!
Child-Focused Parenting: The style and approach of family and divorce mediation helps to focus on the parties’ children’s needs and to improve the parties’ parenting relationship over time. Unlike many other disputes in which the parties will rarely encounter one another following the completion of their case, couples (especially those with younger children) are required to co-parent for many years. As such, they often have a compelling interest in managing their relationship with each other with dignity and respect. Family law mediation promotes this objective, with the obvious benefit to the children and to each party’s own sense of personal peace.
Confidentiality: All of the settlement discussions in family and divorce mediation are protected by California law as absolutely confidential. It is “safe” to consider options and alternatives in mediation without fear that statements or questions or concerns might be used by the other party in court or elsewhere. The family’s circumstances remain undisclosed as well, rather than discussed in court papers or in open court.
Better Compliance: When a case is resolved by a decision of the court it is typical for one or both parties to be dissatisfied with the outcome at least in some respects. Disgruntled parties frequently respond with defiance and are difficult to bring into compliance with the court order. For example, a party ordered to pay child support may believe that the amount set by the court is too high. Under this circumstance, it is not uncommon for that party to refuse to pay the support or frequently be late making payments. On occasion, a very dissatisfied party may even quit his or her job to prevent enforcement of the obligation. On the other hand, when the parties resolve their case through mediation, the outcome is voluntary. Each party understands that while certain aspects of the outcome are not perfect, the overall agreement is fair and mutually derived. Under these conditions, parties are usually enthusiastic about complying with the agreement. Indeed, it is quite rare for a party to refuse or fail to pay a support obligation that was agreed to during the course of mediation.