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Most judges and attorneys agree: in a family law case, it is usually best for the parties to resolve disputed issues than to have the court decide the issues for the parties. Parties know their own family better than anyone. You and the other party to the case—your spouse, ex-spouse, partner, or co-parent—know your schedules, your resources, your needs, and your children better than anyone. By reaching an agreement, you can customize and tailor the terms of your order to the needs of your family to a much higher degree than what is likely possible through the court system.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to discuss and resolve these issues when you’re involved in a legal dispute with someone. Sometimes you may need the help of a neutral mediator to assist in reaching an agreement. This process is called “mediation.”
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). The mediator facilitates communication between the parties to a divorce or other family law dispute, helping them frame the issues and identify resolutions that work for everyone. In California, mediators are often attorneys (although they are not always attorneys) and must have special training before mediating family law cases.
The mediator typically imposes ground rules to keep discussions respectful and on track. Unlike a judge, the mediator does not rule in favor of one party or the other. A mediator cannot issue orders like a judge can. A mediator is a neutral professional that guides and supports the parties in their negotiations for the purpose of helping you reach a settlement. Depending on the issues, it may take multiple sessions to reach agreement. When a court signs off on that agreement, it becomes a court order that governs the parties.
There are many reasons to consider mediation. First, it is less adversarial than litigating in court. By opting into mediation, you and the other party have decided that working together with the mediator’s help to compromise and find a solution is better than litigating these issues in court. This process is often less stressful than litigation. Mediation can help to keep your relationship more cordial, which helps if you still have to co-parent kids together.
Mediation can be quicker and less costly than litigation, too; it also proceeds on your timetable, not the court’s schedule. That lets you move on with your life more quickly, and leaves you more resources with which to move forward. And because you and the other party were actively involved in crafting the resolution to your dispute, you are more likely to be satisfied with it and willing to abide by it. As a result, you’re less likely to end up in court down the road trying to enforce or modify the order.
You can begin mediation after you have filed a family law case in court, but you can also choose to mediate and resolve any issues in dispute before you start a case. You and the other party don’t need to have lawyers with you in mediation; however, because the mediator is impartial and does not give you legal advice, it is wise to consult with an attorney regarding the terms of an agreement before signing it.
Mediation is not right for everyone, especially those who are not willing to negotiate honestly and in good faith. But for most people, family law mediation offers an option for resolving disputes respectfully and in a way that meets all parties’ needs.
Attorney Cammila Valerio is a trained California family law mediator. She is available to help parties come up with their own resolutions to disputed issues in a divorce or custody matter. Cammila became a mediator because she is passionate about helping people reach resolution on their own terms. She wants to help parties avoid the frustration and conflict that often come with lengthy litigation. In her capacity as a mediator, Cammila does not represent either party as an advocate.
If you are already engaged in mediation with a neutral mediator, Cammila Valerio and Ania Bednarczyk are also available to advocate for you during the mediation process either at the mediation table or on a consulting basis before any agreements are signed. As advocates, Cammila and Ania help you understand the law, your rights and obligations, so that you can make wise decisions in mediation. To learn more about family law mediation and whether it might be right for you, contact Bednarczyk & Valerio.