Mediation is the new “buzz word” in family law, but what does it really mean? Many jurisdictions now require that disputes be mediated before the parties head to court. Is this just an unnecessary step in an already lengthy legal process? Or is there real value to mediation?
Simply put, mediation is voluntary negotiation with the assistance of a neutral mediator. The mediator guides the parties through discussions to determine the issues in dispute and to suggest possible solutions. The mediator will try to enhance communication between the parties and move them toward an agreement. Each party may have their own counsel at the mediation, who will be able to point out the pros and cons of various settlement proposals. Or, the parties may devise a settlement proposal with just the mediator, and then have it reviewed by their independent counsel at a later time. Mediation is not binding until the parties reach an agreement, and that agreement is approved by the court.
The mediation process combines four key components: the process is voluntary and the parties may leave at any time for any reason, a collaborative approach is employed, the mediator is impartial and does not represent the sole interests of either party, an agreement can only be reached with the consent of both parties, and the process is confidential.
The success or failure of the mediation process is greatly dependent upon the parties involved. If communication between the parties has deteriorated to a point where there is now a level of distrust, reaching an agreement may be unlikely. However, if the parties approach the mediation process as a tool with which to quickly, and hopefully less painfully, resolve their disputed issues, it can be invaluable. Mediated settlement agreements generally involve far less time, and money, than litigated matters. For parties who wish to remain on good terms, and are committed to negotiating in good-faith to reach an equitable settlement, mediation may just be the answer.
Mr. Bennett has served as a Mediator for Family Law matters, as well as independent counsel for the review of mediated agreements. To speak with Mr. Bennett about whether Mediation is right for you, please contact our offices at (818) 888-7731 to schedule a complimentary free consultation.