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Is Family Mediation for Us?

Separation is a time of great change for families. Plans for the children, division of property and financial arrangements all have to be worked out during a time of great emotional upheaval. These changes and emotions often result in conflicts between family members. How you resolve these conflicts will greatly influence your and your family's adjustment to divorce.

For most people, conflict is frightening and stressful. But, conflict can result in the productive airing of differences and lead to creative solutions to problems. Too often in the separation and divorce process, family members feel like bystanders while lawyers, judges and others work out these crucial issues.

Mediation is one way for family members to resolve their own conflicts during
separation. The mediator, a neutral professional, helps participants clearly define the issues in dispute and tone down the communication process so that a rational discussion can take place. The mediator does not make decisions for the family but helps members of the family make decisions they believe are in everyone's best interest.

Each separation is unique and mediation may not work for all. You and your former partner must want to resolve the issues and be willing to work towards that goal. This outline is to help you decide whether or not mediation is for you.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a voluntary cooperative problem solving process where a neutral professional assists the parties in clearly defining the issues in dispute and reaching cooperative agreements that are in the best interests of the family. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions for you. He or she helps you resolve misunderstandings and communicate more clearly with the other party. Hostile and competitive feelings are reduced so that individuals can better adjust to the divorce and plan for the future.

You meet together with the mediator. The mediator guides the communication process so that everyone has a chance to be heard. Conflicts are discussed one at a time and various solutions are explored so that the best possible agreement can be reached. The mediator may offer suggestions and help parties develop options to resolve the issues, but the final agreement is up to the parties.

What types of disputes can be resolved?

Mediation can be helpful in resolving conflicts between spouses and family disagreements between parents and their children. It can be very beneficial to many couples experiencing disputes during and after divorce, particularly when children are involved. A mediator can help parents understand the needs of children and make decisions in their best interests. Mediation can facilitate working out solutions for the day to day care of children, division of property, and financial arrangements. Communication skills established during mediation often help with future planning and can establish a stage for cooperative post divorce parental relationships.

Do we both have to participate?
Yes. Because mediation is a joint, cooperative problem solving process it is necessary for both spouses to participate. Participants need not feel friendly toward one another but should be willing to work together to find solutions that will be fair and meet the needs of all family members.

Can mediation help get us back together?

Mediation is not counselling. You and your partner should seek counselling if either one of you have any doubts about separation. While feelings about the marriage and the decision to divorce may be discussed, the focus in mediation is to reach agreements so that parents and children may better adjust to the separation and resolve future issues together.

What about the children?
Divorce often is a difficult time for everyone, especially children. It can be very comforting to children to see their parents working together to resolve issues rather than fighting and competing over them. In some cases, children may be invited to participate in mediation so that parents can consider their needs and feelings as plans are made that will directly affect them.

Do I need a lawyer?

It is up to you but remember that mediation is not a substitute for independent legal advice. Lawyers can help their clients understand the law, make informal agreements, write up the final separation agreement, and complete the divorce. The mediator, even if he or she is legally trained, focuses on helping participants reach their own agreements and does not represent either party.

 Are agreements reached in mediation legally binding?

Mediation agreements may be written up by the parties and the mediator or the lawyers as a separation agreement. If the mediator writes up the agreement, it will likely be call a "Memorandum of Agreement." Agreements can be incorporated into a court order or divorce decree. Mediated agreements may be more flexible than court ordered solutions because they can be changed by mutual agreement as the needs of the families and children change over time.

 What if we cannot work it out?

By participating in mediation, you are not giving up any rights to go to court if the mediation does not result in agreement. Mediation may not resolve all the issues but even partial agreements can help to limit the time and expense of going to court. Issues that cannot be resolved completely in mediation can be taken to court for resolution.

What does Mediation cost?

Mediators in private practice usually charge by the hour and fees are usually shared by the parties. Mediation is usually less costly than litigation.