What is Family Mediation?
If you’re going through the divorce process and are weighing your options, it’s likely mediation has crossed your radar. But what exactly is it? Family mediation is when an impartial third-party person, the mediator, meets with the opposing parties to help facilitate an agreement (i.e. divorce, child custody)- this meeting with the mediator can be held individually or together with both parties and their attorneys. Mediation is often used as a substitute for, or supplement to, litigation through the court. In most counties in Texas, it is now a requirement to go through mediation before having a final hearing.
Settling through mediation is the goal, but it is not required and the mediator has no power to force the parties to settle. The mediator’s job is to promote both parties’ voluntary participation, helping the family resolve any and all disputes. The outcome of mediation is always under the control of the parties who are participating in the dispute, and not the mediator. This is an important distinction because in both litigation and arbitration the result is decided by either a judge or the arbitrator.
Why Choose Family Mediation?
While there are pros and cons to both litigation and mediation, there are a handful of distinct benefits to hiring a mediator.
Mediation is valuable for many families because it can:
- Increase communication between the Parties (family members)
- Promote everyone’s best interests
- Reduce the economic and emotional impact of a family dispute
- Reduce the time it takes to resolve a family dispute
- Empower the Parties to make the right choices for their family lifestyle
Emotional Benefits for Families
Parents commonly use mediation to reach child support and child custody agreements with which they can both be satisfied. The mediator will meet separately with each parent to come up with a parenting agreement.
Many parents find that mediation can be more productive than traditional litigation (and substantially less expensive). Aside from being a less stressful experience for the parents, children ultimately benefit from parents cooperating toward a common goal. Mediation also allows co-parents to customize a custody and parenting plan that works best for their whole family, instead of leaving those decisions in the hands of a judge.
Traditional divorce litigation is reliably costly, so it’s in your best financial interest to avoid it if possible. Costs of litigation include lawyer fees, court fees, filing fees, and a myriad of other potential expenses. Alternatively, mediation can provide a more cost-effective option. This can provide the family with a more stable financial environment. It comes as no surprise that financial strain created by a divorce only exacerbates an already difficult and tense situation.
During divorce mediation, the division of assets and debts is also addressed. In many divorce cases, the division of property is the most contentious and complicated issue to resolve. A major benefit of using mediation to settle the division of assets and debts in your divorce is that the process allows both parties to customize a division strategy according to their needs and preferences instead of leaving that decision to a judge. Mediation also provides added privacy because the proceedings aren’t held in a public court like during litigation, making it a preferred option for couples who desire more confidentiality (such as those with complicated family situations or going through a high net-worth divorce).
Flexibility and Time
Mediation provides the opportunity to address family disputes in a much more timely manner than going to court. Settling family disputes on your own time, rather than the time dictated by the court, is much more appealing for busy families. Even if your mediation process requires multiple sessions, the scheduling options allow you more time to think through a solution that will work for everyone.
Texas’ 60-day waiting period guarantees that a Texas-based divorce takes at least 60 days to complete, but divorce through litigation takes significantly longer! From filing the first petition to finalizing the judgement, the litigation process averages around 12 months; the average time increases to about 18 months if the divorce case goes to trail. Mediation offers an opportunity to shorten that time.
Who is the Family Mediator?
The mediator must be an impartial third party. For families, it is a wise decision to work with an experienced family law mediator since he or she will be knowledgeable about the applicable laws. Many family law attorneys are also family law mediators.
Attorneys for both parties may speak to the mediator, but will not make any formal arguments or presentations before the mediator. If desired, the parties can choose to hire only a mediator to help them through their specific issues, which can help reduce the economic impact and settle the dispute without turning to the courts. This allows the parties to have more control over how they move forward, if a settlement is reached.
Kelly J. Capps is an experienced family law attorney and family law mediator. She listens closely to each Party regarding their family law issues. Whether a family law attorney or family law mediator is needed, we will find the best path for our clients to move their families forward.