In most situations, the mediator will meet with the parties at the same time; everyone will be together in the same room. In some cases, which we call shuttle mediation, each of the parties is in a seperate room and the mediator goes back and forth between them. Often, shuttle mediation is the best approach in very high conflict cases or families where there is a history of domestic violence. The mediator’s job is to look for common goals and values, to find areas of compromise and help craft creative solutions. Mediators do not make decisions about how a case will be resolved, but can provide information about what would be likely if a judge is asked to make decisions on an issue. The mediation process is confidential, so the mediator cannot be called upon to testify in court later about what was said during the mediation. Mediation sometimes involves private meetings with each of the parties, and what is said in those meetings, called caucuses, is confidential. When an agreement is reached in mediation, a binding agreement is signed by the parties, who can then have their own attorneys draft the pleadings that will be presented to a judge or the mediator can prepare the pleadings. The final result is an enforceable court order. In mediation, the parties can reach agreements that often would not be considered by a judge, taking into account the needs of the parties and the children.
An experienced mediator can offer a depth and breadth of knowledge to help resolve family law matters. When a family system is in crisis, litigation should be a last resort. After “restructuring”, family relationships live on, long after attorneys and judges have left the scene. Mediation can help families lay the foundation for long term civil working relationships and serve as an important step in the process of healing. Every family is unique and its members are in the best position, with expert assistance, to develop resolutions tailored to meet the needs of the family. Unlike other areas of litigation, participants will typically continue to have significant contact with one another for many years. A successfully mediated dispute, whether focused on financial or parenting issues, will have far reaching positive consequences, improving the quality of the lives of family members and extended family. Especially in the lives of children, research confirms that the creation of a cooperative relationship between parents is inestimable in terms of long term positive outcomes.