What is family mediation?
Family mediation is a confidential process used by members of a family who need help in solving certain important issues. They use a mediator—a trained individual who does not have a stake or an opinion in how the problem is solved—to help them find solutions that are best for their situation.
Mediation can help a family with many types of problems. The most common use of family mediation involves issues surrounding separation or divorce. A mediator can help with tasks such as:
- Division of money and other types of property
- Child custody and visitation arrangements (parenting agreements)
- Alimony, spousal, or partner support
- Preparing prenuptial agreements
In addition, some mediators are also skilled in helping with other types of situations, such as:
- Communication problems between parents and teens
- Conflicts between adult brothers and sisters
- Disputes about running a family business
- Decisions about care of an aging parent who is alone and frail
- Following health care directives
- Disagreements about wills or estates
How does mediation work?
A mediator meets privately with the family members involved and helps them settle their issues in ways on which they both can agree. Participants remain in control of what is happening, making all the decisions. The mediator does not make judgments, determine facts, or decide the outcome. Instead, he or she provides a setting in which the participants can identify options and find solutions best suited to their situation. No decision is made unless and until it is acceptable to all participants.
What are some benefits of mediation?
- Control over what happens to people’s future, finances, children, and businesses stays with the parties, not a judge.
- Confidentiality is a central principle of mediation. Personal information does not become part of a public record, and private business stays private.
- Durability in the agreements reached. Mediated settlements have more “staying-power” than those imposed by a court. People are much more likely to comply with decisions that they have agreed to themselves.
- Time saved in completing resolution of the issues. Mediation can spare people years of the stress, uncertainty and strain that they would experience in a court battle.
- Collaboration in dealing with difficult issues. Mediation provides a constructive and civil alternative to the anger, hostility and frustration that characterize adversarial approaches.
How long does mediation take?
Mediations usually involve a series of sessions, with each session typically lasting about two hours. The number of sessions needed depends upon how complicated a dispute is, and the level of disagreement between the participants. A separation or divorce may take four to eight sessions.
When a dispute is resolved, the mediator prepares a “memorandum of understanding” containing all the decisions made by the parties. For informal disputes, the process ends here. In situations involving legal issues such as divorce, the parties then normally use attorneys to prepare legal documents based upon the memorandum of understanding.
How expensive is mediation?
Mediation almost invariably costs much less than litigation—in many cases, less than half as much. The total cost will depend on how many sessions are needed to settle the dispute. Most private mediators charge by the hour, in a range of about $100–$200 per hour. The hourly rate is usually divided between the participants.
What’s the difference between mediation and arbitration?
Both types of processes are similar in that they use a neutral third party. They differ, though, in that mediation supports the parties in finding common ground, rather than determining facts or deciding whether people are right or wrong. Arbitration, on the other hand, involves both sides presenting evidence and making arguments, after which the arbitrator makes a decision for the parties.
Are lawyers needed?
Lawyers can be helpful as legal advisors, either during mediation, to review decisions made by participants, or to prepare legal documents. The degree to which lawyers are involved varies depending upon a number of factors, including the nature of the issues, the wishes of the participants and the mediator’s preference. You should discuss this question with any mediator you are considering using.
At the very least, most mediators urge their clients to consult with their own attorneys regarding any decisions with possible legal consequences. In divorce-related matters, it is highly advisable to have lawyers prepare documents such as financial settlements and custody and visitation agreements.