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Delving Deeper into Family Mediation in Seattle, Washington

Family mediation is an empowering process where family members work cooperatively to resolve some of the more complex conflicts that can arise in family law. While mediation is facilitated by a family mediator, mediation is a self-directed process, meaning that the individuals involved are always ultimately in the driver’s seat when it comes to decision-making. A mediator is a neutral third party whose job is to help conflicting parties resolve their differences and reach a legal agreement without having to take the case to court. The collaborative divorce lawyers at Truce Law sometimes work with mediators to help divorcing couples reach their goals. In this article, we’ll explore family mediation in Seattle, Washington and delve deeper into whether it might be an option for you.

What does a family mediator do, exactly?

A family mediator works privately with family members facing a wide range of family law disputes (like child custody, division of property, or alimony), empowering family members to find peaceful resolutions to their disagreements. A skilled family mediator will take the time to understand each party’s goals and values, and work to find solutions that meet every party’s needs. In areas of conflict where goals seem to be mutually exclusive, a skilled family mediator can help each person explore his or her deeper motivations. Ultimately, a family mediator can use negotiation tactics to create win-win situations.

A family mediator can be a lawyer but isn’t working in the capacity as a lawyer. While a mediator can inform both parties about family law, a mediator cannot provide legal advice. Remember, a mediator is a neutral third party. To give legal advice, a lawyer must represent you specifically. This is why, in most mediation cases, both parties will still hire lawyers to represent their interests and hire a mediator to help them work through difficult issues.

When does a mediator enter the picture?

A family mediator can work with divorcing couples either before they file for divorce, or after litigation has begun.

Here are some of the kinds of conflicts where a family mediator can help:

  • Division of property in divorce or separation
  • Alimony
  • Division of debts in divorce or separation
  • Parenting plans
  • Child support
  • Paternity
  • Probate issues
  • Caring for an aging family member
  • And more.

Truce Law offers family mediation services in Seattle, Washington to help divorcing couples negotiate some of the toughest issues that can arise in family law disputes. Our collaborative law firm handles a wide range of family law concerns and helps families find resolutions to their conflicts without having to take their cases to court. As family mediators in Seattle, Washington, we understand the many issues that can arise in family law and the negotiation tactics that can work.

Whether you are facing court-ordered mediation, or just want to settle your family law dispute outside of court, mediation might be the choice for you. Let’s explore family mediation in more depth.

The Family Mediation Process

There are many ways that people can arrive at the family mediation process.

  • Before filing for divorce a couple hires a mediator to help them negotiate some of the thornier issues in their divorce agreement.
  • Divorce negotiations have stalled, and a mediator is brought in to help.
  • A couple takes their divorce to court, and the court orders mediation.
  • Another family law matter, like probate or caring for an elderly or disabled relative has arisen, and the family chooses to pursue family mediation to help.

The family mediation process can either take place online or in person. Each party is encouraged to share their goals and ideal outcomes for the family mediation process. When goals overlap, the mediator’s job is easier. Most people, however, seek mediation when goals seem mutually exclusive or in conflict. This is where a mediator can really help. In cases where both parties agree on most issues, one or two mediation sessions may be sufficient just to fine tune the agreement. But in more complex or high-conflict cases, multiple mediation sessions may be required, and the mediator may even suggest that counselors, therapists, financial advisors, child psychologists, or other professionals join the conversation.

Before the mediation begins, both parties will fill out paperwork disclosing assets, debts, and goals for resolving the conflict. Both parties may be asked to share what their ideal outcome would be, what they believe their “non-negotiables” are, and where they are willing to negotiate.

Whether a mediation takes place online or in person, after litigation has begun or before you ever step foot in a courtroom, the mediation process will share some characteristics in most situations.

Let’s explore these in depth.

  1. Identifying Conflicts and Common Ground

In any given family dispute, there will be areas where both parties share goals, and where goals diverge. A skilled family mediator can identify areas where you and your former partner already agree, and then identify the conflict(s) that need to be resolved and prioritize one issue at a time.

  1. Help Both Parties Understand Legal Standards

In many family law conflicts, objective legal standards can guide and shape decision-making. It’s important that the people involved in mediation have an understanding of the law going into mediation. This typically will come from an attorney that they have hired to advise them through the mediation process because a mediator is not permitted to give legal advice.

In some areas of family law, the law is clear on what needs to happen. For example, in matters of child support, child support guidelines will offer clear guidance on what child support should be paid given each parent’s income. In matters of child custody, the law is clear that both parents will be encouraged to have a relationship with the children, and only in rare exceptions (usually those involving child endangerment or parental incapacity) would one parent have sole legal and physical custody. In those situations, mediation is not likely the best option to come to a solution.

The mediator’s job is also to shed light on areas that need discussion because often the legal standards are not so clear, where there are gray areas. For example, in Washington state, property is divided in an equitable manner, not 50-50. When it comes to alimony amounts, specifics about visitation or dividing parenting time, and dividing property and assets in divorce, the law offers some flexibility. These are the areas where conflicts and disputes can arise.

  1. Help Parties Negotiate on Values Rather Than End Goals

People entering family mediation may have specific goals in mind, like…

  • I want to keep the house in the divorce.
  • I want $2,000 a month in alimony.
  • I want the children to live with me.

A skilled mediator knows that these kinds of specific demands and goals often cloak values, worries, concerns, and deeper needs that a person is trying to meet.

A mother wanting to keep the house in the divorce may be concerned about long-term housing for herself and her children or may be worried about forcing the children to change school districts if she has to move. She may be concerned about what might happen to her investment if the family home is put up for sale. Beneath her demand for the family home is a deep need for security, stability, and retirement.

A woman wanting $2000 a month in alimony may be concerned about how her lack of a degree might make it difficult to find a job in today’s economy or she may be concerned about how she’ll pay the mortgage on her own if she keeps the family house.

A father who wants his children to live with him may be concerned that if the children live with their mother, they’ll lose touch with valued religious traditions, or that they won’t receive the math tutoring he provides in the evening, or perhaps he remembers his own parents’ divorce and how he lost touch with his own father after it.

To resolve these complex family law matters, a skilled mediator not only needs to look at the point of dispute, but also at the underlying values and concerns beneath the dispute. By looking deeper, a mediator can help both parties reach an agreement that works.

  1. Help Both Parties Reach an Agreement About Parenting Plans, Division of Property, and Other Concerns

The end goal of family mediation is capture an agreement in writing that is signed. The signed agreement will summarize the agreed outcomes and provide sufficient detail, so that the mediation participants can either take the terms to a lawyer to draft into the appropriate court forms or draft the paperwork themselves.  To reach an agreement, a skilled mediator will help clients employ creative problem-solving tactics, along with offering empathetic guidance to help resolve conflicts.

Truce Law offers family mediation services in Seattle, Washington. We employ a wide range of creative negotiation tactics to help clients resolve their differences. Mediators are sent in to help in the most difficult circumstances—when couples take their family law matters to court and cannot resolve their differences. Even in these situations, mediators can help.

Benefits of Mediation

Mediation can be effective in helping individuals resolve some of the most intractable family law matters. This is why many judges will order mediation before hearing a case in court. What are some of the benefits of mediation?

  • Anything you say and do in court ends up on the public record. Mediation takes place in private.
  • Mediation is a self-directed and self-empowering process. You and your partner are in control of when you meet, how long you meet, and remain in control of the outcome. When couples take their case to a judge, there is always the risk that the judge will make a decision neither party wants. By choosing mediation, you and your former partner remain in control.
  • Enduring Solutions. When co-parents create a parenting plan that they both truly agree upon, it is less likely that they will experience conflict in the future and it is more likely that they’ll both honor the parenting plan. If you’re looking for long-term conflict reduction, and a strong co-parenting relationship, mediation might be a great investment today.
  • Like collaborative law, mediation allows both parties to work together to reach a resolution outside of court. Unlike collaborative law, both parties aren’t required to sign a contract before negotiations begin that they won’t take their case to court.
  • The presence of a mediator can de-escalate conflicts before they become too heated and can put a pause to negotiation when emotions flare up. A skilled mediator can help both parties enter a neutral space where both parties can set anger and resentment aside and work toward solutions.
  • May Be Better for the Children. Research published in Family Court Review has noted that higher conflict divorce can lead to greater distress in children. Lower conflict divorce (or even the appearance of lower conflict) can result in better psychological outcomes for the children.
  • Rather than waiting on a judge for a court date, with mediation, you set the time and dates to negotiate, and can often more quickly reach a divorce settlement than if you take your case to court.

These are just some of the benefits of mediation. If you and your partner take your family law matter to court, in most cases, you will be sent to a mediator, anyway. More and more couples are choosing to avoid court by choosing mediation from the outset.

Truce Law offers family mediation in Seattle, Washington and is committed to helping couples find solutions to their disagreements.

What Kind of Family Disputes Can a Mediator Handle?

Truce Law helps families and couples resolve a wide range of family law conflicts. Mediation can help families with:

  • Divorce
  • Separation
  • Child Custody / Parenting Plan
  • Child Support
  • Division of Property and Debts
  • Alimony or Spousal Support
  • Parenting Plan Modifications
  • Parental Relocation
  • Disputes About Parental Decision-Making
  • Disputes Involving a Parent’s New Partner
  • Probate Disputes
  • Estate Planning Disputes
  • Inheritance Distribution Conflicts
  • Disputes Regarding Caring for an Aging Family Member
  • Guardianship Disputes

How Long Will Mediation Take?

The length of the mediation process will depend on many factors. In a high-conflict divorce, many mediation sessions may be required, and the mediator may suggest that other professionals, like therapists, counselors, child psychologists, financial advisors, and forensic accountants, enter the discussion. In other situations, both parties are in general agreement about their divorce settlement, and just want a neutral party to guide them through the process of writing their settlement. In these cases, just one or two family mediation sessions might be sufficient.

Are Decisions Made in Mediation Binding?

Decisions made in mediation are binding only if the parties choose to come to an agreement and sign off on the terms of their agreement at the end of the mediation session.

What if Both Parties Cannot Reach a Decision?

If both parties cannot reach a decision, you’ll still have options. You can try to hire another mediator, you can enter into a collaborative divorce agreement (where you’ll each hire your own lawyer), you can enter arbitration, or you can take your case to court. Sometimes both parties who want to keep their divorce outside of court choose arbitration or collaborative law.

What is the Difference Between Collaborative Family Law and Family Mediation?

With collaborative law, both parties each hire their own collaborative family lawyer to represent them in negotiations and sign a contract that they’ll settle their divorce outside of court. Each party is represented by their own family law attorney during the negotiation process which takes place outside of court. Sometimes, in complex collaborative law cases, collaborative attorneys will recommend that clients bring in other parties including psychologists, counselors, financial planners, forensic accountants, and others. If both parties cannot reach an agreement through the collaborative process, where each parties lawyer’s work together to reach a settlement.

With mediation, both parties can just hire a mediator to help them with negotiations, or both parties can hire a mediator in addition to their representation by legal counsel (this avenue is recommended). With family mediation, there’s no contract that you’ll settle your case through the mediation process. The mediation process is voluntary (unless it’s court-ordered, but even when it is court-ordered, both parties are under no obligation to resolve their differences through mediation).

What is the difference between family mediation and arbitration?

With arbitration, often an attorney or former judge acts a final decision maker, who makes the decision in a disagreement. The benefit of arbitration is that unlike taking your case to court where the judge’s decision happens publicly, when you take your case to arbitration, the decision-making happens in private.

Sometimes couples might choose a hybrid family mediation, arbitration model, where, if mediation doesn’t work, or only works for the resolution of some issues, both parties agree to bring in an arbitrator to hear each party’s case and make the remaining decisions for them.

What are the Costs of Mediation?

The costs of mediation will depend on the rates of the mediator you hire. If you hire a mediator who is also a lawyer, your mediator’s hourly rate may be higher than a mediator who isn’t a lawyer. Mediation costs will also depend on how complex your case is. If you need many mediation sessions, this will obviously cost more than if you just need one or two mediation sessions.

Contact a Family Mediator Today

Truce Law is a collaborative law firm in Seattle, Washington committed to helping clients find peaceful resolutions to their disputes outside of court. If you think family mediation might work for you, reach out to one of our family mediators in Seattle, Washington today. At Truce Law we are committed to helping clients find the best way forward. We can talk you through the various options that may be available, including collaborative divorce, mediation, and more.

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