By Staff Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC
What is the purpose of mediation?
During the process of a divorce proceeding or allocation of parental responsibilities parties are required to participate in mediation prior to attending a contested final orders hearing. Parties may also be required to mediate due to post decree issues, such as a modification of parenting time or if a contempt is filed. Some parties may agree at the time of their divorce that any future issues must be mediated first prior to either party filing a Motion with the Court. There are few exceptions to when parties will not be required to mediate, but these exceptions are rare. The court requires mediation as a way to assist parties in making their own agreements and to ultimately avoid contested hearings.
How do I schedule mediation?
The mediation process typically lasts two hours. Mediation can be scheduled with a private mediator which are often times family law attorneys in private practice or attorneys who previously practiced in family law. Mediation can also be scheduled through the Office of Dispute Resolution which is located in the basement of the courthouse. There are fees associated with mediation and those depend on the amount of time for the mediation and which mediator is selected. Mediators are to act as a neutral third party and do not represent the interests of either party.
What should I do to prepare?
The best way to prepare for mediation is to review your sworn financial statement and prepare a proposed parenting plan, if applicable. Reviewing your sworn financial statement will allow you to recognize which assets and debts will need to be discussed during mediation. A proposed parenting plan will be helpful for the mediator to review to understand what you are requesting in terms of parenting time. The mediator can assist you in determining child support by reviewing the child support guideline with you. Lastly, go into mediation with an open mind and the understanding that to reach an agreement both parties will need to compromise.
What is the process for mediation?
During mediation the parties are not in the same room. The mediator will go between each room to discuss the positions of the parties as to property, debt, support, and parenting time, if applicable. Parties are not required to reach an agreement through mediation, however, parties must make a good-faith attempt to settle issues during mediation. Mediation is always confidential, however, there are a few exceptions to this rule, for example, if someone reports they are about to commit a crime. Also, if agreements are reached in mediation and a signed, written document called a Memorandum of Understanding is drafted this will be filed with the Court. If no agreements are reached the Court will only know that the parties attended mediation and that no agreements were reached. In mediation parties may reach agreements as to all disputed issues, as to only a few disputed issues, or may not reach any agreements. If parties reach a full agreement their agreement will be signed, filed with the Court, and the parties will attend an uncontested final orders hearing. If only a few issues are resolved an agreement may still be filed with the Court, however, the disputed issues will proceed to a contested hearing. Finally, if no agreements are reached the parties will proceed to a contested final orders hearing as to all issues.
How can an attorney assist in mediation?
If you hire an attorney the attorney will be present for mediation. The attorney can help you prepare for mediation by creating a proposed parenting plan as well as reviewing your assets and debts with you. Your attorney can advise you as to which proposals are reasonable and fair and which proposals are not. Your attorney has experience in front of the various judges and magistrates and can advise you as to what the court would typically do in any given scenario. Ultimately, your attorney can assist you through the process, schedule mediation for you, and ensure your interests are protected through the process.