One of the initial phases of any divorce involving children is a referral to mediation. Per many of the local county rules, mediation is required prior to any substantive hearing on custody and visitation issues. Your lawyer may give you an “intake” date for you to come to court with your soon-to-be-ex and schedule your mediation dates. Alternatively, your lawyer may have you call mediation services themselves to schedule your appointment.
The mediation process itself may take a few months as there may be a backlog on the number of cases they can take. In addition, depending on the age of your children and the number of contested issues, you may have more than one mediation session. If there is an agreement, the Judge will receive a letter that states that there is an agreement, but will not state the issues that were agreed upon. Because all of the communication that takes place in the mediation is confidential, unless there are threats of violence, child abuse or imminent danger, the actual agreement is sent only to the attorneys and the parties to be included later in a Custody Judgment or Agreed Order signed by the parties. As a result, the parties still have the ability to recant on any of the issues that were allegedly agreed in mediation perhaps after discussing it further with their attorney or having a change of heart.
While most of the services offered by the county are free and are restricted solely to issues of custody and mediation, parties also have the option of private mediation for other issues such as the parties financial issues. The same rules in regards to custody mediation apply except that this mediator is likely an attorney and will be more expensive. Depending on the complexity of the financial issues in the case, however, this is a good option in lieu of preparing and undergoing a full trial on financial issues which could cost more in prep time and could last several days.
Mediation is highly favored in the court system as it relieves the stress on the court system if every case went to trial. It also removes the stress on the children and the parties who would have to endure the pressure of a custody or financial trial. If, in the end, there is no agreement, then no harm is done and the parties can simply prepare for a trial on the contested issues. Furthermore, the parties can agree on custody and still decide to go to trial on the financial issues. If you feel that mediation is right for you, talk to an attorney regarding your mediation options.