Mediation is another way of reaching a negotiated agreement, using the assistance of a trained and experienced mediator. A mediator is a neutral person who can help you and the opposing party discuss the issues in your case that you think need to be resolved. You and the other party might see those issues differently. A mediator would help both of you to have a more careful and thorough discussion of those issues. Both you and the other party would have an opportunity to describe what is important to each of you.
Mediation is quite different from a court hearing before a judge. Here are six ways in which mediation differs from a court hearing:
1. In mediation, you and the other party control the outcome. It is a voluntary process in which the parties try to reach an agreement. If you reach an agreement, it will be because you think the terms of the agreement address your concerns adequately. If you do not reach an agreement, you still may have a court hearing in which a judge will decide the issues for you. Concerning child custody and visitation issues, the judge will make a decision that the judge believes is in the best interests of your child. If either you or the other party believe that the judge has made a mistake, then the way to correct that mistake would be to appeal the judge's decision, if proper grounds for appeal exist. In contrast, if you think that a proposed agreement developed in mediation would be a mistake, you simply would refuse to agree to it. In mediation, you retain control over the outcome to a greater degree than if you submit your issues to a court and ask the judge to make a decision for you. Even though you go to mediation, you are not required to reach an agreement.
2. Mediation sessions take place in an office or conference room rather than in a courtroom. There is no direct or cross examination during a mediation session. Instead, you would have a confidential discussion led by the mediator to ensure that all of your concerns and the other party’s concerns were clarified. The mediator helps the parties to identify the problems that need to be resolved and helps them try to develop solutions to those problems that will be acceptable to them both.
3. In mediation it is uncertain whether or not an agreement will be achieved. In contrast, if your case is heard by the court, the court will decide the case. Because mediation is a voluntary process, it is possible that no agreement will be reached, that an agreement will be reached concerning some of the problems, or that an agreement will be reached concerning all of the problems. If an agreement is reached concerning some or all of the problems, it will be unnecessary to present evidence to the court concerning those problems. If an agreement is not reached, the court will need to hear all of the evidence in order to decide the matter. You cannot be forced by the mediator to mediate and if you wish to end the mediation, you may leave the mediation at any time.
4. The mediation process may be faster than having a contested court hearing. Each case is different, so it is difficult to predict. However, some issues are resolved in a single mediation session, while other issues may take several mediation sessions held over a period of weeks. In either event, you will have reached the end of the mediation process, with or without an agreement, before a trial can take place in your case.
5. Mediation might help you to save some money. If you and the other party are able to reach an agreement concerning all or some of the issues, then you may save some of the fees and expenses that you would have to pay to present evidence to the court in a contested hearing. Those savings might be substantial. However, if you and the other party are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, you will have incurred the additional expense of paying the mediator, and will still need to pay the fees and costs related to presenting the contested issues to the court.
6. By law, what you and the other party say during a mediation session remains confidential. The statements that you and the other party make during mediation cannot be offered in evidence against you during a subsequent court hearing. This should encourage you both to be clear and honest with each other regarding your concerns for your children.
You should meet with your attorney well before the mediation session. After the mediation, your attorney want to advise you about the terms of any proposed agreements and perhaps suggest some modifications for you to consider. Your attorney certainly will want to review any proposed agreements that you and the other party might consider. Normally, your attorney would not be present during your mediation sessions. However, if you want your attorney to be present, your attorney can be present and you have a right to have your attorney present. Please do not sign any mediation agreement until your attorney has reviewed it.