Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs about Family Mediation
What do family mediators do?
We help people resolve disagreements about marriage, separation, divorce, parenting schedules, child support, alimony, property division, elder care, the family’s budget, distribution of inherited property, family business succession, and other family matters.
How does mediation work?
In a confidential setting, the mediator helps each party to communicate what is important to him or her and to hear what is important to the other party. With help from the mediator, the parties:
- identify the issues that need to be resolved;
- prioritize the issues and focus on one at a time;
- discuss possible solutions;
- come to agreement about parenting plans and/or financial or other issues;
- have a draft prepared of their emerging agreement; and
- review, revise, and prepare the agreement for signing.
Can a mediator give legal advice?
While some mediators may have a legal background and others have backgrounds in other professional areas such as mental health, as mediators we are in a unique role that does not involve representing or advocating for either party—in essence, we are neutral to both parties. Mediators can give you information about state laws and local court procedures and can tell you about other resources available, but we do not give legal advice. That is, we do not interpret statutes or advise about or recommend any specific legal action that would benefit either party over the other.
What if there has been a history of violence or drug abuse in the family?
The mediator must assess whether mediation can be safe and effective after understanding the nature, frequency, and intensity of prior incidents of such abuse. If safety can be assured and each party is able to understand the implications of decisions being considered, then mediation may still proceed successfully.
What if my partner or ex-partner is completely irrational and seems to be unmovable?
Often, mediation works anyway. Mediators find ways to help the parties move forward, even though they might appear to be at an impasse. For most people, face-to-face meetings are most efficient and effective, but for some clients, separate meetings (caucusing) work better. In such situations, the mediator meets with each party separately, asks questions, and carries relevant information and proposals back and forth between the parties.
When is the best time to start mediation?
As soon as the parties agree to try to resolve their differences outside of court. It is best to try mediation before the litigation process creates too much mistrust between the parties and before the lawyers initiate expensive discovery processes. Mediation early on can save the parties thousands of dollars and minimize long-term distress.
Do mediators make lawyers irrelevant?
In family law matters, there is always a meaningful role for consulting attorneys. It is best for the parties to get any needed legal advice from their own separate lawyers before and/or during mediation. Many mediators recommend having your own respective attorneys review a proposed agreement before you sign it.
How many sessions of mediation are needed when people are divorcing?
The answer varies with the number of issues to be resolved, their complexity, the degree of conflict between the parties, and the ability and willingness of the parties to negotiate in good faith and cooperate without strong emotions overwhelming the process. That said, a typical comprehensive divorce case may take anywhere from 2 to 8 sessions or more, with some homework between sessions. Mediating Parenting Plans alone may take as few as 1 to 3 sessions.
If one of us is skeptical, should we try mediation anyway?
Yes. You may be able to reach agreement on some of the issues, even if you cannot resolve all of them through facilitated negotiations; in such cases, we can write up a “Partial Agreement”. You will still save time and money, and you will still avoid unnecessary stress.
What are the financial advantages of mediation over litigation?
The most common alternative to mediation is to work with two separate lawyers to handle negotiations. This is much more expensive, for the following reasons:
- The hourly fees of mediators typically are lower than those of lawyers;
- Lawyers usually charge clients for more hours of work to get something decided because they get paid for the time they talk with you and for the time they spend communicating with the other party’s lawyer.
- For a divorce professional’s time to accomplish two-hours’ worth of work, two family members can either pay two lawyers (total of four hours of work), or, together, they can pay just one mediator (for only two hours of work);
- Litigious approaches to divorce also involve a lot of inefficiently used time, including costly procedural actions (e.g. filing declarations and motions, depositions, discovery, countless back-and-forth communications between the lawyers, etc.), whereas mediation is a very straightforward approach. The Agreement that emerges from mediation can easily be incorporated into a court order.
Is mediation always successful?
While no method of conflict resolution is always successful, the rates of success for mediation are better than those for litigation. This is partly because in mediation both parties “win”, whereas in litigation only one party “wins”. Success in mediation does require that both parties negotiate in good faith and want to resolve matters. For example, if someone would rather spend $50,000 punishing an ex-spouse than keeping most of that money in the family for the children’s benefit, then mediation may not succeed. If the parties have unrealistic expectations and each is convinced that the judge will see everything as that party sees it, they may both need to experience one or two court hearings before they are ready to negotiate in earnest. Such exposure often teaches people that there is no guaranteed fairness or justice in family court. Mediation allows you to maintain control over the process.
If I already have an attorney, is it too late to try mediation?
Mediation is still available. You can keep or hire an attorney to give you advice and then do most of the negotiation work yourself at a much lower cost in mediation. You can even retain an attorney to represent you in court and still do much of the negotiating yourself, with help from a mediator. That can be better than paying two lawyers to negotiate with each other on behalf of the two parties. Many attorneys are happy to have their clients work with mediators to resolve most or all of the issues outside of court.
What are the advantages of mediation?
- You will make the decisions. You, the individuals involved, are the ones who know your children and family best. You don’t have to leave it to a stranger in a courtroom to tell you how your family will work or how you will be raising your children.
- Mediation is much less expensive than fighting in court.
- Mediation is much less distressing than fighting in court.
- Mediation is much faster than working your way through the many complex steps of litigation.
We strongly encourage you to try mediation for resolving your family disputes!