At some point in your family law case, you are likely to be confronted with mediation. It can either be an option or a requirement. Mediation offers the parties an opportunity to avoid taking matters to the courtroom. Mediation is flexible and confidential and can serve as a healthy foundation for future communication between the parties. Learning to effectively communicate with one another can be especially helpful to parents of minor children since communicating post-divorce is unavoidable.
What is a Mediator?
A mediator is a neutral party who guides the parties to resolution of their dispute, including small and large issues. In a divorce, a full agreement includes property and division, child custody, child support, alimony parenting plans, taxes, and retirement plans. They help the couple communicate civilly, striving to maintain a calm atmosphere. It is important for couples to remember that they don't necessarily have to agree with each other to understand each other's needs.
How is the Mediator Selected?
Mediators can be chosen by the parties' attorneys or appointed by the judge. In many Georgia judicial circuits, the authority to appoint a mediator has been delegated by the judges to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) office. In the Mountain, Northern, and Enotah Judicial Circuits, the judges can require mediation before any final hearing. Mediation is typically recommended
because the parties have more control over the outcome of their divorce. Sessions are usually at least two hours long and the length of the session and number of sessions depends on individual circumstances and a couple's willingness to cooperate.
How Much Does the Mediator Cost?
The cost for mediation can vary widely. In northeast Georgia, the rate can vary from as low as $75 per hour to $300 per hour or more. Cost is unavoidably an issue, but the experience and effectiveness and efficiency of a mediator counts for as much or more than their billable rate. Your attorney can help you balance these factors where selection of the mediator is within the parties' control. The billable rate is often divided equally between the parties. All judicial districts have a system for determining if a party qualifies for a free or lower cost mediation.
What Benefit Does the Mediator Provide?
An experienced mediator will be able to help a couple by suggesting common ways that certain issues in the family law cases are solved. If the couple is able to compromise, the mediator, with the assistance of the attorneys, drafts and sends a copy of a settlement agreement to both parties' attorneys.
Although mediation is a preferred option for family law cases, it is not recommended in every situation. If there are issues of domestic violence or power imbalance, meeting together in a mediation session may not be the best option for the parties or may require mediators who have special training in those situations.
How Do I Prepare for a Mediation Session?
You and your attorney should meet prior to a mediation session to focus on your priorities for the mediation session. In some cases, your attorney will come to the mediation with draft settlement documents prepared to try to assure that all of your concerns are addressed. Where financial issues are involved, your attorney will need to have listings of assets, incomes, debts and other issues that influence the financial decisions. By identifying the issues and setting your priorities, you and your attorney can improve your chances for a successful outcome and for a productive use of your mediation time. Remember in setting goals for the mediation, it is important to consider not only what you want but what the other side may be able to give. It is important also to give thought to what can happen if you do not settle and go to court and the costs of that course. Mediators sometimes use the acronyms BATNA and WATNA to describe the court alternatives. What is the best alternative to negotiated agreement? What is the worst alternative to negotiated agreement? The attraction of a mediated agreement is that it eliminates that risk and leaves you in control, not a judge or jury.
Attorney Nina M. Svoren is ready and willing to advise you on all of your family law needs. She has extensive experience in preparing for and representing clients in family law mediatons. Call or email today to schedule a free consultation.