Create Your Own Solution: Seven Compelling Reasons to Mediate Your Family Law Case
Today, lawyers are turning to mediation more frequently than ever before. Mediation offers a number of benefits, including the opportunity for parties to be heard; a chance to save time and money and avoid the costs of proceeding to trial; and agreeing on a settlement that all parties can accept — even if they must be willing to compromise a bit.
While any type of lawsuit can be mediated, family law cases are particularly well-suited to this form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Read on for a closer look at seven compelling reasons why you should consider mediation for your family law case.
A Better Understanding of Their Goals
First, mediation gives the parties an opportunity to get clear about what they want and can help them start thinking about what they can live with, if they can’t get everything they want. Parties may begin to identify their priorities during mediation and may realize that the other side’s priorities — or even their own — are different than what they originally thought. This can help clarify issues and even help settle cases that on the surface appear destined for trial.
More Control Over the Process
If you’re a family law attorney, you’re familiar with the heightened emotions these cases can entail — and for good reason. A family law case is more likely to have a greater impact on your client’s life than any other type of legal issue, except for a criminal charge. When minor children and custody issues are involved, emotions can be even more intense.
Mediation let the parties involved have more control over the process. If you go to trial, the judge (or jury) will rule on issues ranging from property division to time-sharing arrangements, and the parties must comply with that order. If you’re involved in a paternity or divorce case, wouldn’t you rather be able to play an active role in the process of determining the plan that will determine your future? Isn’t that preferable to having someone else craft what he or she thinks is the best plan for your family?
An Opportunity to Speak
Clients involved in family law disputes often have the need to be heard, to vent, to express their feelings and frustrations. Mediating a family law case gives them the ability to do so, without worrying that their outbursts may hurt the outcome. Clients can come to the table and vent. They can share what they want with the mediator and feel that someone is listening to them. Having felt heard, they may be more likely to consider settlement options they may not have before. Sometimes simply having a chance to express their feelings can help set the stage for a more peaceful resolution.
A More Thorough Analysis
Another benefit to mediation for family law cases is the breadth of information the mediator can review. He or she is a factfinder and isn’t bound by the strict evidentiary rules at trial and can gather a more complete picture of the family members involved in the lawsuit. Mediators have a rare opportunity to get to know the parties involved and their children, and that can help determine solutions that work best for everyone.
An Easier Division of Assets
While the focus of family law tends to be on children and custody issues, other issues, like the division of marital property, are better handled during mediation than at trial. Dividing property isn’t as simple as creating an accounting ledger and drawing a line down the middle.
Some pieces of property may have much more emotional value to one party (or both) than others — one spouse may care more about an antique writing desk, for example, than a car, or would rather walk away with a set of a golf clubs than a mutual fund. Mediation gives people a chance to identify the emotional value, not only the financial value, of marital assets, and to create a division of assets and debts that both sides can agree on.
Less Likelihood of Future Litigation
Family law lawyers know that the case isn’t always closed after the marriage is dissolved. Well, your clients are more likely to be able to comply whatever order is entered when they helped create that order. As a family law attorney, I saw a lot of “frequent fliers,” clients who are back in court constantly over custody disputes or other issues related to their case. The people who settle at mediation, however, feel that they had a say in the outcome in their case, and are much less likely to return to court for post-divorce issues.
A Reminder of the Big Picture
Finally, for a family law case to settle, everyone must feel like they come away with something from the table, and a mediator who takes the time to listen to the parties and demonstrates that can facilitate the process.
The mediator can also remind the parties that the actions they take now will impact their lives — possibly even the rest of their lives. Families will have birthdays, graduations, weddings, and other events where they may have to interact with each other. When clients leave the mediation with a sense of dignity, they’re more likely to be able to move forward in a positive way, and that can benefit everyone involved.
The goal of mediating a family law case should be simple: to leave the members of the family better off than what they were before they walked through the door. Keep that in mind and you’re more likely to help your clients settle their family law cases — and move on with their lives.
ABOUT ELIZABETH HOPPE
Elizabeth Hoppe is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator and is a family law attorney with 24 years of experience in that field. An experienced litigator, she has been involved in every aspect of domestic relations law including dissolution of marriage, establishment of paternity, and adoption. Her practice was dedicated to assisting parties navigate the challenges regarding child custody and support, alimony, and distribution of family assets and debts.