Finding Harmony in Family Law Issues: The Power of Mediation
As family law attorneys, we frequently encounter clients with preconceived notions about mediation, often shaped by exaggerated portrayals in movies and on television. For those of you familiar with the movie Wedding Crashers, you’ll recognize the scene: a divorcing couple flanked by their attorneys with two mediators across the table, creating an atmosphere filled with acrimony and discomfort. While it is a hilarious opening scene to a movie, the reality of mediation is significantly different, and it’s a process we actively recommend for our clients, regardless of the family law challenges they’re navigating.
Understanding Mediation and Exploring Its Benefits
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution, which offers a means for parties to resolve their family law matters without the need for a trial. In contrast to a trial’s formalism, mediation offers a more relaxed and calming environment with flexible rules. A key distinction lies in its confidentiality as negotiations between the parties remain private and are not shared outside of the mediation.have with the meditator remain private.
Despite its informal nature, the significance of mediation remains profound. It can involve negotiations regarding asset division, alimony, child support and custody matters, and the mediation agreement is binding. Notably, some Georgia counties and judges mandate mediation before proceeding to trial, recognizing the potential time and cost savings for individuals and the court system. The benefits of mediation are plenty:
- Substantial cost savings for all involved parties.
- Quicker resolution compared to the traditional trial process.
- Flexibility in scheduling and the option for either virtual or in-person sessions.
- A depth of insight on the mediator’s part based on a comprehensive understanding of the narrative and the underlying issues that is typically beyond the reach of a trial judge.
- Reduced emotional toll on the parties involved.
What to Expect on the Day of Mediation
When you arrive at the location of your mediation (virtual or in-person), you and your attorney will be assigned a room separate from the other party. The mediator will hold private discussions with both parties to understand the reasons for their presence and establish ground rules for the proceedings. Parties will then have the opportunity to present their perspectives on the matter at hand, and the mediator will then facilitate discussions, shuttling back and forth between the parties to reach an agreement.
Typically, the plaintiff’s side initiates with the first settlement offer, which the mediator conveys to the defendant. While the mediator can offer suggestions or potential solutions for reaching a settlement, it is important to remember that clients should rely on their attorneys for legal guidance and advice to ensure the fairness of any agreement.
In some cases, resolution may not be reached during the initial session. In such instances, the mediator may encourage the parties to schedule another session to continue negotiations. Alternatively, when parties find themselves significantly apart and a resolution seems improbable, the mediator and the attorneys may advise that a trial is the best course of action after just one session, although this rarely happens.
Best Practices for Mediation
In our role as family law attorneys, we provide guidance on essential best practices for both the lead-up to mediation and during the session itself. These include:
- Familiarizing yourself with the issues that will be presented at mediation and the other party’s position.
- Clearly defining your objectives for mediation. Whether it’s a specific monetary figure, a desired visitation schedule or another goal, having a clear understanding of what you aim to achieve is crucial.
- Ensuring you have access to comprehensive information on all financial accounts, investments and property assets.
- Preparing yourself to compromise on certain matters and identifying in advance which issues you’re willing to concede on.
- Respecting the process as a constructive avenue for resolution.
Experienced family law attorneys approach mediation with the same level of meticulous preparation as they would for a trial, ensuring that your rights are safeguarded and striving for a favorable outcome. They should be your staunch advocates, offering innovative solutions to intricate issues and ensuring that any mediation agreement encompasses a thorough and clear representation of its vital terms.
In most cases, mediation proves to be a highly constructive approach. It not only expedites the resolution of family law issues but also lowers legal costs, enabling parties to part ways as amicably as possible and move forward with their lives peacefully.
Alexis Connors is an associate at Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery. She focuses on matters involving complex divorce litigation, child support and custody disputes, and paternity and legitimization.