For many, the decision to enter into the court system—and as a result, to possibly take a family law matter to trial—can be unappealing. Not only can litigation be costly and contentious, but many families also find that putting their legal issues in front of a judge results in outcomes that neither party desires. For example, a judge could order a difficult-to-manage parenting time plan or a division of assets that’s not really what you want, even if it is within the boundaries of what makes sense legally.
When courts issue orders in a family law matter, they follow statutes and case law and weigh numerous factors. They strive to be as fair as possible. But at the end of the day, it’s a stranger with limited information about what’s best for your family making binding decisions that will have long-term impacts on your life—and that can be stressful to contemplate.
This is exactly where alternative dispute resolution methods can come into play—and here, the focus is on mediation. When you work with a mediator, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can work together with the guidance of a neutral third party to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution through dialogue, while also avoiding lengthy and costly court proceedings.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a legal alternative (or in some cases a complement) to litigation that involves working with a neutral third party to resolve legal conflicts. The mediator works to bridge the gap between two parties by helping facilitate negotiations and craft solutions that work for everyone involved.
Different states have different requirements for who can be a mediator. Many family law offices offer mediation services, but keep in mind that not all attorneys are trained as mediators; the New Jersey court requires mediators to undergo 40 hours of training to become qualified in mediation.
Five important benefits of mediation in family law
A qualified mediator can help clients feel more in control of their legal matters, both in how they progress and the potential outcomes. In turn, this can result in a less stressful legal experience than would be experienced in a courtroom setting.
Here are a few other benefits of choosing customized mediation over litigation.
1. Personalized timelines
When a case goes to court, disputes over various issues can become a protracted battle that could drag on for months (and in some cases, years).
The time both parties spend in a stressful courtroom environment can also have a lasting impact. Long court cases can deteriorate family relationships, particularly in high-conflict situations, even more than the strain imposed by the separation. What’s more, they can put families in a stressful holding pattern with interim issues building as they wait for courts to resolve matters.
A customized mediation process allows you to work on your issues according to your own timeline, which grants you the freedom to take as much or as little time as you need to do research, have discussions, or even just process proposed solutions without the pressure to make an immediate decision. It also allows you to address concerns as they arise, which, when handled effectively, can add to the feelings of forward movement, which helps cases settle even faster.
2. Open communication
The mediation process gives you the ability to focus on what’s most important to your family by providing an avenue for open communication and decision-making that may be suppressed during a contentious litigation process or the adversarial process.
With a customized mediation process, a knowledgeable professional will work with you to explore the specific issues that are important to you and your family. Having a neutral person present options, solutions, and thoughts to consider that encompass the wants and needs of everyone involved helps to ensure that the outcome is something that everyone can agree on and can adhere to. In this way, it is a more participatory process with self-selected results.
3. Mutually satisfactory results
When courts make decisions in a legal matter, they rely on statutes, case law, and a range of other factors to determine the outcome. While courts strive to be fair and impartial, the truth is that they don’t know your family personally. They have little insight into your goals and wishes.
This means that while they follow the requirements as set out by law, they might not deliver a personalized solution. And even in cases where the court does seem to personalize outcomes, the level of specificity needed for long-term changes in the family dynamics might be missing.
Mediation, on the other hand, allows you to focus on specific issues and consider what kind of resolution would best meet the needs of both parties. It also allows you to be as detailed about any one particular issue as necessary, and it encourages the “what-if” model of resolution: the ability to consider tiered outcomes to encompass potential changes in various circumstances allow for a more long-term settlement. This will help cut down on future acrimony and keep you out of court longer.
4. More manageable legal expenses
Whether you’re dealing with a divorce, custody issues, or division of assets, litigating family law matters can come with a high price tag. Expenses for attorneys, experts, court costs, and other associated costs can add up quickly—and these expenses can increase over time if matters drag out in court.
Mediation, on the other hand, can offer a more affordable option. When parties can work together in a mediation setting, they often reach agreements more quickly and generally involve fewer parties.
5. Reduced conflict and hostility
By using the services of a skilled mediator instead of (or sometimes concurrent with) litigating, you can avoid (or substantially decrease) the hostility that sometimes comes with litigating settling matters in court and focus on maintaining a less adversarial relationship once your conflict is resolved. Part of a mediator’s job during the process of dialogue is to reduce tensions between parties and show areas of commonality, so that productive conversations can take place.
By providing a path to peaceful conflict resolution and a new foundation for mutual understanding, it’s more likely that both parties will honor the agreements made through mediation both now and in the future.
Learn more about the benefits of mediation with Jacobs Berger
Customized mediation can be a better path forward for some families because it offers them more time and flexibility to resolve their issues and come to mutually beneficial agreements—ones that they are invested in upholding.
Whether you’re looking to address one issue or many, we’re here to help you. At Jacobs Berger, our team includes court-approved family mediators. Whether we serve as a third-party neutral, or we are advocates for our clients in the mediation process, we work with our clients to find opportunities to resolve matters so they can move forward with less stress.
If you’re currently seeking legal counsel, or have questions about the mediation process, contact us to schedule your strategy session with our team.