Is Family Mediation Right For Me?
Mediation is talked about a lot in terms of separation and divorce but there’s much more that mediation can accomplish. Mediation is a great tool for families who are in the midst of disputes that seem insurmountable or couples that are already separated and need help working through issues that are impacting co-parenting. Some reasons that people seek mediation are planning for a pending divorce, working through a parenting plan, or deciding whether or not to legally separate.
Definition of Family Mediation
The family mediation process gives you the ability to resolve any family issues in a private setting with the help of an unbiased third party. This process can be voluntary (a proactive choice made by those involved) or involuntary (required by the court). In both cases, it gives people the opportunity to choose the best outcome for their family before a judge has to get involved in the decision-making process.
Family mediation isn’t just for couples that are considering a divorce. Topics that can be addressed in these sessions can include visitation issues, child support, alimony, property division, elder care, the family’s budget, distribution of inherited property, family business succession, and other family matters.
The important thing to remember about working with a mediator is that they are a neutral third party. Mediators are there to help you work through sticky issues outside of a courtroom. They are not there to make legal recommendations or give legal advice to either party. They can give you information about applicable state and federal laws, but will not give either party advice on how to proceed.
Do I have to get along with the other involved people for mediation to work?
The answer to this question is yes and no. There are a variety of types of mediation sessions that are designed to limit the amount of interaction and conflict between two or more parties that just can’t seem to be in the same room together. Depending on how well you and the other parties get along, you can choose to either have a shuttle session or a facilitative session.
Shuttle mediation sessions are geared more towards participants who have trouble working together productively or are experiencing a large amount of conflict. Each participant and their attorney have their own room. Participants don’t have to have their own attorney but it can be helpful when making decisions or evaluating offers throughout the process.
In this type of session, the mediator’s role is to go between the rooms communicating for and with the parties involved. Mediators tend to take a more direct approach in these sessions because of the back-and-forth nature of the communication involved. You can expect a mediator in this session to suggest solutions based on their experience and what they expect a court would decide given similar facts.
However, no matter how bad communication has gotten between you and the other involved parties, all of you must come to the mediation session ready, able, and willing to devote yourself fully to the process. Mediation can only be successful if everyone is invested in its success.
Facilitative mediation sessions are more participant-driven. In these kinds of sessions, all the participants, and any other attorneys involved, are in the same room. After a short introduction from the mediator describing the process and what to expect, each party will have a chance to share why they are there and what they hope to accomplish. Negotiations will begin from there and be guided by the mediator based on the goals each participant shared. Solutions agreed on during facilitative sessions are generally provided by the participants only, not the mediator. Once the sessions are complete, the mediator will draw up a mediation agreement summarizing the decisions made.
Can mediation help us communicate better?
The great thing about mediation is that the answer to this question is a solid yes. When you are interviewing mediators, you will find that some have a different style than others. That is because there are three distinct styles utilized by professional mediators.
The first style is a transformative style in which the mediator is focused more on helping all involved understand the motivations behind everyone’s communication style and recognizing and empowering everyone to share what’s on their mind. They are less focused on problem-solving than changing how all involved respond to conflict. While they are there to help you come to an agreement on a specific issue, they are also invested in helping people understand why they talk to each other the way they do which can, potentially, help everyone communicate better.
The second style is an evaluative style approach to mediation. This type of mediator tries to take all feelings out of the negotiations and root the solutions offered in current case law and precedent. By taking away the element of what each person views as fair and focusing on the law, the mediator is better able to find a neutral solution that works for everyone on some level. This style is best suited to more complex situations where people are tempted to “just let the judge decide.”
Finally, there’s a facilitative style. As explained above, a facilitative mediator is really there to act as a neutral third-party to monitor and guide the negotiations while making sure everything stays on track. They work to make sure that the participants involved understand the real-world implications of their agreements so that they don’t end up back in court or in front of a mediator if an unforeseen complication arises.
All mediators will employ some combination of these three styles throughout the mediation process but all mediators also have a style that they prefer or are most comfortable with.
What are the advantages of mediation?
The main benefit of going through the mediation process is the amount of time and money you save by avoiding the traditional, court-driven route. When it comes to the issue of divorce, for example, the average contested divorce in the state of Washington costs more than $27,000 and can take almost a year to finalize. Using family mediation services up front can reduce that cost by thousands of dollars and the divorce can be finalized in 90 days.
This kind of time and money savings can be seen across any issue that you want to bring before an experienced mediator.
Another benefit of attempting to find a solution through mediation is that the discussions and negotiations between all parties will be kept confidential. When you go before a court to work through sensitive family issues, all of the discussions and conflicts are open to the public and can be accessed virtually or in person by anyone. This can limit the topics and options you feel comfortable discussing with the involved parties. The cloak of anonymity provided by family mediation allows everyone to discuss everything openly and freely, allowing for more creative solutions that benefit everyone.
Finally, you know your family best and know what will, and what won’t, work for them. A judge in a courtroom does not know that. All the judge knows is what is on the paper before them. Judges don’t like being put in the position of telling families what is best for their situation. The mediation process allows you the chance to figure that out for yourself before going before a judge.
What are the disadvantages of mediation?
The main drawback of mediation is that the process does not work for everyone and, if the process fails, you’ll leave the mediation where you started. Like I mentioned above, everyone has to come to the mediation table in good faith, with a dedication to honesty, and a willingness to negotiate. Mediation will always fail if one party uses it as an opportunity to make one-sided demands so be sure that everyone involved actually wants to be there.
I hope this gave you an understanding of whether mediation is the right fit for your situation. If you’d like help with your mediation, please call Truce Law at 206.409.4086 or send us a message. Thanks for reading.