There are several routes to take when beginning a divorce or separation. No matter how we begin, the majority of our contested cases end up being resolved in mediation.
Mediation is a process by which a mediator – usually a lawyer with extensive Family Court experience – meets with the parties, either individually or together, with their own lawyers or without – to help them reach an agreement on the issues. The mediator does not represent either of the parties, and does not make any decisions in the case. Mediators help the parties reach an agreement on their own, so the case does not have to be tried. Mediated agreements must be approved by the Family Court and made into a Family Court Order before they are enforceable.
There are many advantages to mediation, including:
- Creative solutions. Often the mediator can fashion creative provisions that a Family
Court judge might not have the authority to include in an Order.
- Speed. You get a quicker resolution to your case. It can take more than a year to have
trial scheduled, but mediation can be scheduled at any point during the case.
- Preparation Expense. Most of the time, mediation is far less expensive than trial. Even
though mediation requires extensive attorney preparation, it does not come close to the
preparation needed for trial.
- Time. A trial is often scheduled for more than one day or court time, and sometimes
more than one week of court time. Mediation is usually finished in one day, although
more complex cases may take several days.
- Control. You keep control over your life when you reach a mediated settlement. A
Family Court Judge has only the information presented during trial on which to base
major decisions about your life the lives of your children. When you get a mediated
agreement, you and your estranged spouse make all of the decisions.
- Finality. When you complete a trial and get a judge’s ruling, either or both parties can
appeal that ruling. This can take years, and end up with a re-trial of the same issues.
When you get a mediated agreement, you are finished with your case. When a mediated
agreement becomes a written, signed agreement and is approved and adopted by the
Family Court, it is final and cannot be appealed.
- Security. When you take your case to trial, you have no idea what the Judge’s ruling
might be. When you enter into a mediated agreement, you do not face the uncertainty of the Family Court Judge’s decision.
Natalie Parker Bluestein is 2014 President of the Charleston County Bar Association