In many actions affecting the family (divorce, legal separation, paternity, and post-judgment matters regarding custody, placement, child support, maintenance, etc.) mediation may be the best means to reach a result that will reduce the trauma children can otherwise experience as a result of these cases. Provided that the case does not include some of the circumstances that make mediation very difficult such as spousal or child abuse, alcohol or drug abuse, or untreated mental health conditions, mediation may be a great option for obtaining a result that both parties can deem acceptable.
Mediation Comes in Many Forms:
FAMILY COURT COUNSELING: In cases in which parents cannot agree on custody and placement terms, the court is required (absent rare circumstances) to refer both parents to mediation on those issues. In Dane County that means both parents will first attend a Parent Education class (NOT intended to teach parenting skills but rather to teach parents skills about how to navigate parenting when children reside in more than one home) and mediation. Next, a Family Court Counselor will work with both parents to try to reach an agreement on child-related issues such as custody and placement. If the parties are successful the Family Court Counselor will reduce the agreement to writing for review by the parties, and absent any objection, will later deliver the agreement to the court so the court can consider adopting the terms of the agreement as a court order.
DANE COUNTY PRO BONO MEDIATION: Many experienced family law attorneys volunteer as mediators in this program. As such the attorneys in Dane County are able to use this service for their cases. An unbiased experienced family attorney will serve as a mediator to assist in trying to obtain terms that both parties can accept as the final order.
PRIVATE PAY MEDIATION: many experienced family law attorneys and retired court officials, such as Ginger L. Murray, will agree to serve as a mediator for families with outstanding disputed family law matters. In this situation, the parties generally share the cost of the mediation. The mediator will define the rules of the mediation (initial mediation statements, pre-mediation contact/exchange of documents, the timing of the mediation, etc.) with the assistance and input of the parties/parties’ attorneys. In this situation, the parties may ask that the mediator draft the paperwork from any mediation efforts.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEDIATION? As I explained in a mediation video prepared by myself, Judge Kinney and Judge Mangerson for the State Bar of Wisconsin, if mediation is successful, that means there will be a final order that is based on terms that both parties said they will accept. That means it is much more likely that the parties will be agreeable to following the order and less likely to further litigate those terms. Staying out of court is almost always good for families and most certainly for children. It is usually much easier to schedule mediation than a contested hearing. Less time in litigation means fewer litigation costs. Also, mediation means that you can usually avoid the nastiness that is almost inherent in any contested matter. In summary, mediation usually takes less time than litigation, usually results in both parties feeling that they had control of their destiny, and therefore the case is less likely to continue to be litigious, meaning mediation is usually less expensive than litigation and more likely to avoid future litigation.
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO MEDIATION? Yes. Many times the parties can work together in a settlement conference to work through unresolved issues. This method does not require the assistance of a 3rd party. Further, many lawyers offer collaborative or cooperative methods for handling your family law case. An additional alternative is arbitration (or a combination of mediation/arbitration), in which a mutually agreed upon arbitrator decides the dispute. Often times, parties will agree to mediation and that in the event mediation fails, the mediator will take on the role of arbitrator.