Although the divorce rate seems to always be increasing and “contested” child custody cases feel exceedingly common, the majority of family law cases are settled out of court. Some cases settle on their own, but many cases go to mediation. Mediation is a process during which spouses/parents work out their differences with the assistance of a neutral third-party person called a mediator. Mediation is an exceedingly helpful tool that has helped countless couples settle their differences and avoid expensive and prolonged litigation. However, for mediation to be successful, it is important that mediation be conducted at the right time during the case.
Divorce and child custody proceedings almost always involve a high degree of emotion and sometimes anger and resentment. Typically, these feelings are at an all-time high right when the case begins. A strong likelihood exists that one or both spouses will not be ready to mediate right away. Mediation requires that both people enter into the process with an attitude of cooperation. The chaos and anger that frequently accompanies family cases usually does not lend itself to successful mediation sessions; emotions simply are too raw at this point. Instead, mediation could first be considered once both spouses have “cooled down” and established a new sense of normalcy.
Mediating too soon also can mean that the spouses do not have all the information necessary to make good decisions about settlement arrangements. Most divorces involve division of assets and debts. Longer-term marriages also often involve complicated divisions of retirement and investment accounts or spousal support discussions. Further, if the mediation is conducted before the process of discovery is completed, then the parties will not have yet exchanged all the information required for both spouses to approach a settlement proposal with all of the required information. It is not necessary to always complete formal discovery before mediation if the spouses will voluntarily agree to exchange the necessary information. This type of an agreement in and of itself is a good sign that the spouses are ready to sit down and sincerely attempt to create a complete a settlement agreement.
When children are involved, parents also need to be sensitive to the changing needs of the children in the new separated home life. Children may need time to settle into new routines before parents can make proper suggestions at mediation about what type of residential schedule will be in the child’s best interest going forward. Accordingly, allowing a child time to adjust to the “new normal” may be necessary before scheduling mediation.
Mediation is a wonderful tool to help spouses and parents settle a case, but it is important that it be conducted in the right way and at the right time. Contact us today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your case and to see if you are ready for mediation.