Mediation is a process which allows parties to work together to reach agreement on a particular issue with the assistance of a mediator. The mediator is a neutral person, who helps guide the parties and facilitates conversations, but does not offer legal advice or make decisions for the parties. It is a type of alternative dispute resolution which fosters self-determination, based on the parties’ understanding of their own views, each other’s views, and the reality they each face. The process is voluntary and confidential. It moves at the parties’ own pace and allows for creative solutions which would not necessarily be available in a courtroom.
Family mediation can be an effective alternative to costly court proceedings. The parties meet together with the mediator in three-way meetings, exchanging all requested information and documents and utilizing problem solving techniques to arrive at a resolution. An experienced mediator works to understand the issues that underlie a particular problem and helps to focus and guide the discussion. While maintaining neutrality, the mediator makes sure that everyone is heard, and helps the parties develop options or alternatives that may not have been explored before.
The mediation process creates a safe space where the parties make decisions for themselves that are mutually acceptable. The mediator may assist in offering suggestions or an opinion as to what a court might do with respect to a particular issue, but the ultimate decision lies with the parties.
Because the mediation process is driven by the parties, it requires that they be able to speak for themselves and feel comfortable expressing their feelings. Mediation is generally not appropriate where there has been a history of domestic violence, psychological intimidation, or substance abuse. Many parties consult with lawyers prior to and during mediation to obtain legal advice and provide assurance that the terms they are agreeing to are reasonable. They may also consult with other financial and mental health professionals to assist them in the process.
Review / Consulting Attorney
Many people involved in mediation find it beneficial to consult with an attorney at some point during the process. It may be that one or both parties feel the need for their attorney to be present during the mediation. Other parties may only touch base with an attorney between sessions to obtain legal advice and help in understanding the consequences of what they may be agreeing to. Still others may feel comfortable waiting until a proposed agreement is reached in mediation. It is at that point that many people bring the agreement to a review attorney prior to signing to make sure it is fair and legal. Most mediators recommend that parties consult with a lawyer at some point in the process. In fact, some mediators will not agree to mediate unless the parties agree to have the proposed agreement reviewed by an attorney prior to signing. It is important to consult with a mediation-friendly lawyer in any of these circumstances, since the goal is to gain understanding about what has been agreed to, not to have the agreement rewritten. Most mediators can provide parties with the names of mediation-friendly attorneys in their area.
Types of Mediation
Mediation is particularly effective for family relationships. It can be used for couples who are splitting up (with or without children), for parents and teenagers, or for adult siblings dealing with aging parents.
Margaret Nicholson is an experienced divorce mediation attorney committed to providing an alternative framework for settlement. Her law practice specializes in family mediation matters as well as Collaborative Divorce. Contact her today to see if mediation is a viable solution for you. Serving Westchester County, NY, and surrounding communities, she can be reached at (914) 669-5224 or via email.