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Family law mediation is a voluntary process in which a couple meets with a neutral third party to address and resolve issues. The mediator provides information about the law and legal process, but does not represent or advocate for either party and does not provide legal advice. The mediator assists the couple in exploring options, but cannot make decisions for them. Mediation is a client-centered process to help couples reach out-of-court agreements without the financial and emotional cost of contested court proceedings.

Mediation is common in divorce, but also may be used in areas such as pre- or post-nuptial agreements and paternity matters. Couples with low conflict and reasonably good communication may choose mediation as an efficient way to navigate and resolve family law issues. Couples with more significant conflict or who struggle to communicate effectively may find mediation beneficial as a means of problem-solving, reducing conflict, and breaking impasse. Mediators should encourage and model positive communication-both speaking and listening skills. Mediators can help the parties communicate and negotiate more constructively, efficiently, and productively.

Mediators are usually privately selected and retained by the parties, though courts can order parties to participate in mediation. Mediation can occur with parties who have individually retained lawyers or parties who are self-represented. The parties most commonly communicate with one another directly in the presence of the mediator.

Mediation involves an interest-based approach to negotiations. Mediators should have specialized training in dispute resolution approaches and techniques. Mediators use their skills to help open and improve communication between the parties to assist them in resolving issues. Communications in mediation generally cannot be used against a party if there is subsequent litigation, which encourages open communication in the process. Additional professionals may be involved in mediation, such as financial and mental health experts, to assure informed decision-making and assist in exploring settlement options. The goal of family law mediation is to assist the parties in creating their own agreements to meet both their needs as well as the needs of their children.

Susan Hansen

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