Is Mediation Right for My Case?
The divorce process can be unfamiliar, stressful, and painful during an already difficult time in your life. Facing the legal system for the first time while dealing with personal affairs can add complication. Cases that go through litigation often take months, or even years before they are resolved. Along the way are numerous motions, exchanges of documents, investigations, and lots of back and forth between attorneys. The system is means to be adversarial, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, for parties to continue to work together to co-parent their children or deal with joint assets or other family affairs as necessary.
Most parties end up settling their divorce case before they ever go to trial whether it’s through mediation, negotiation, or another alternative dispute resolution effort. Parties who see the potential of mediation can benefit financially and emotionally from resolving their case more quickly and fairly than it may end up in court.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is the process of negotiating a case with the assistance of a neutral third party, called a mediator. Most mediators are retired judges or attorneys who have decades of experience. Each party usually has their own representation and their own attorney during the mediation process. Mediators all have their own process, but most frequently the parties all meet together before splitting into separate rooms with the mediator traveling back and forth making offers.
The mediator cannot offer either party legal advice, which is why bringing your own attorney can make all the difference in ensuring a fair outcome. The mediator’s job is to find a middle ground between each party’s position and facilitate the negotiations to a meeting point. Most mediators take one issue at a time and work to resolve each one, creating a full written agreement at the end of the session.
Mediation can have a number of benefits over litigation so long as both parties are willing to participate in the process.
In court everything is left in the hands of a judge, who doesn’t know the whole history of your relationship, your family, or what’s best overall for your situation. Judges are limited to following the relevant case law and statutes, and aren’t able to use creative solutions to most problems. Judges can only consider the evidence before them, meaning that hearsay or other evidence may be properly excluded from consideration. Mediators, on the other hand, can help parties find solutions that work for them, even if they wouldn’t be ordered in court. Mediators can hear all kinds of evidence, including evidence that may not be admissible in a trial as hearsay. Parties that reach a resolution through mediation are more likely to follow through on their obligations, since they found the terms agreeable to begin with.
In cases involving custody, flexible solutions can make all the difference in the parties’ ability to co-parent moving forward. Courts offer more traditional visitation schedules, meaning one party usually gets alternate weekends and a midweek evening visitation. That schedule is not ideal for most families, especially where parents have been sharing custodial responsibilities equally. Agreements made outside of court offer both parents more time and flexibility, which can make co-parenting together easier after the case is over.
Everything filed in court is a public record, and absent special circumstances, anyone can watch a trial in a Virginia Circuit Court. Usually the circumstances leading to a divorce are quite private, and can be embarrassing, which can motivate a party toward settlement.
The grounds for divorce in Virginia are limited to cruelty, desertion, adultery, felony conviction, or separation. Contentious cases will involve detailing private, painful events from the parties’ history in order to obtain a divorce. Mediation offers confidentiality for both sides while still offering an opportunity for each party to share their story.
Parties that want a quicker resolution of their case can benefit from mediation. In a litigated case, there are certain waiting periods and filings that are required before hearing dates can be set. Depending on the court’s availability, a hearing may not be scheduled for several months, leaving the parties in limbo in the meantime. Many divorce cases take at least a year before they are set for a trial, which can create financial and emotional stress on both sides.
On it’s face, it would appear mediation is expensive. Mediators don’t work for free, and often have comparable or higher fees than most attorneys. Having each side hire their own attorney and covering the cost of the mediator would appear more expensive than going to court, however, in most cases it is substantially cheaper.
Going through mediation means skipping a lot of the procedure, and accompanying attorney’s fees, that go into most cases. One of the most expensive processes is discovery, where parties request and exchange financial and other documents that may be relevant to their case. By going through mediation, evidence can be offered and exchanged informally.
Preparing and conducting a trial is a huge expense. Having an attorney spend hours of preparation and ensuring that all evidence is presented properly can mean serving subpoenas, bringing in (and paying for) experts to testify, along with preparing and researching the relevant case law.
Divorce is an emotional time and it’s easy to make mistakes that may come back to haunt you in the future. Keep a level head and consider all of the options available to you. Consult your attorney and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being thorough now will make your life much easier after the divorce is final.
Melone Hatley is a general practice law firm based in Virginia Beach and Reston. Our practice areas include Family Law, Divorce and Special Needs Children, Traffic Ticket Defense, DUI/DWI Defense, and Trust and Estate Law. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service. Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.
We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives. For more information about divorce, separation agreements, and our family law practice, contact our office today at 703.995.9900 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com