Divorce, custody, and other family law disputes are rarely easy or comfortable to resolve. Too often, the fallout from a contentious legal battle lingers for years, leaving emotional scars on both parties and making it difficult to co-parent together. While litigation is sometimes necessary, family law disputes can often be resolved with less conflict through a process called mediation.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which a neutral individual (called a mediator) facilitates communication and dialogue between parties to a dispute so that they can identify possible solutions and, hopefully, reach agreement regarding some or all of the disputed issues. To better understand what mediation is, it may first be helpful to understand what it is not. The mediator is not a judge and does not make decisions about the dispute, nor does the mediator suggest solutions, give legal advice or advocate on behalf of either party.
The divorce mediator’s role is to help the parties clarify the issues they need to resolve and to identify mutually acceptable solutions. If the parties reach an agreement during the process of mediation, the mediator will likely commit this agreement to some form of writing (often called a Term Sheet) so that their attorneys can use it to draft a more comprehensive settlement agreement. The terms of any agreement will ultimately be signed off on by the parties, their attorneys (if any), and the judge, giving the settlement the force of not only a contract, but also a court order.
Divorce mediation has many benefits for couples and their children while facing the challenges of a divorce and custody dispute. The process is designed to not only find solutions, but to also promote cooperation and respectful communication between the parties. Such positive communication not only makes the divorce process itself less stressful to all involved, but it also lays the foundation for successful co-parenting.
Mediation of family law issues can also proceed on the parties’ timetable, rather than being stuck with the court’s timetable. If you and your spouse decide to participate in the process of mediation, you can do so even before filing a divorce case. If you are successful in reaching a full agreement through mediation, in Maryland, you may be able to file for a mutual consent divorce, which is a streamlined divorce process available to parties who have no more disputes pending. Even if you do not resolve all disputed issues before filing for divorce, mediation makes it more likely that you will reach a settlement before a trial becomes a reality.
Because mediation typically reduces conflict and shortens the divorce process, it often reduces the financial cost of divorce as well. Divorce mediation costs vary from case to case depending upon the specific mediator’s fee and the number and length of sessions needed to resolve your matter. However, a mediated solution is much less costly than taking a family law dispute all the way to trial—sometimes tens of thousands of dollars less.
Lastly, mediation gives parties to a family law dispute more control over the outcome of their case. In mediation, you are free to propose and adopt creative solutions that work for your specific family, but that a judge could not order without agreement. When you and your spouse are involved in crafting a positive resolution to your dispute, both sides are more likely to abide by the terms of the court order, and less likely to need to return to court to enforce orders.
Mediation is not right for every couple or family. It may not be helpful when there is a significant power imbalance (such as in relationships involving domestic violence) or when one party is unwilling to negotiate fairly (such as in certain high-conflict divorce and custody situations). But for most families, divorce mediation is a viable option that should be tried.
Whether you are seeking an attorney to represent and advise you through the mediation process, or looking for a trained, neutral mediator to help you resolve your family law dispute, Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield can help.
If you need representation in your dispute, it is best to have an attorney who can help you to negotiate and mediate from a position of strength. We are seasoned litigators who have devoted our entire careers and entire practice to only family law. While we prefer to help clients resolve disputes with a minimum of conflict, we are creative courtroom strategists if trial becomes necessary. We are skilled negotiators, but will never encourage our clients to accept a settlement that is not in their best interest simply to avoid a trial.
Our litigation experience also makes us more effective when we serve as neutral divorce mediators. Not all divorce mediators have trial experience, and some are not even attorneys. A mediator who understands both family law and the court system can guide you more effectively to reaching a resolution that works for you, your spouse and your children.
We invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to discuss whether mediation is right for your needs and to learn how our divorce mediation attorneys can help you to successfully resolve your family law dispute.