What You Need to Know About Divorce and Mediation:
Ten Years of Successful Mediation Prompts Policy Change
In mediation, people talk with the assistance of a trained mediator who doesn’t take sides. They have the chance to be heard, to ask questions and to make their own decisions. Before mediation, over 95% doubt that they will make any progress. They think “If we were going to be able to talk things out, we would have done that already. Things are worse than ever now.”
However, 71% reach agreement on some or all of their issues in their divorce or custody case in this judicial district. And they’re surprised! And their attorneys are surprised, because they have heard how difficult the other person is.
Why DOES mediation work? Although people are doubtful, they usually DO want to talk. They have things they want to say. They want to be heard. They want to ask some questions. They really want to be able to make their own decisions, in spite of their anger, frustration, and distrust. Doubt is normal, but it does NOT predict whether mediation will be useful. In mediation, people usually hear new information, feel heard, and increase their understanding of the situation. That can help them reach agreements and begin to move on emotionally and legally.
Ten Years of Family Mediation
In August 1996 the Sixth Judicial District implemented a Family Mediation Program that required people in divorce and custody cases to try mediation before they could get a court decision. In the past 10 years, people have mediated in over 2260 cases.
Comments from people who have mediated
Comments from parties include: “I like making the decisions.” “I believe (we) came away feeling better about (our)selves and each other.” “I finally felt that I was being ‘heard’.” “It saved lawyer fees and time in court.” “The 2.5 hours with the mediator did more to move things along than the last 2.5 months.”
Mediation can save money
The estimated average expense for mediation was $138 per person for those who reached agreement on all issues, $162 per person for some issues, and $90.00 per person for no issues (based on the reported average time spent in mediation and using $60 an hour, which is at the low end of the fee range) as the average mediator hourly fee per person.)
The cost of going to trial can exceed $5,000 per person. Mediation is certainly worth a try.
People who mediate are less likely to return to court
150 Linn County cases were reviewed to determine whether mediation affected the re-litigation, or modification, rate in custody and visitation disputes. The study found that modifications are lowest in cases that mediated and re-litigation is 7-8 times more likely in cases that don’t mediate initially. This means people are making lasting decisions in mediation or have been able to make any new decisions themselves, without going back to court.
Mediation saves courts time and results in greater efficiency
The number of temporary hearings has dropped and trials are shorter because people have made some of their decisions in mediation. This reduces the staff-time needed to process a case, so other cases can be heard sooner.
The earlier the better
A 2001 study by the State Justice Institute, ”Timing is Everything,” focused on two Virginia mediation programs and the effect of timing on mediation in divorce and custody cases. The study concluded that mediating as soon as possible results in fewer hearings, fewer mediation sessions, and an increased likelihood of the parties spending less time in mediation and making their own agreements. All of this benefits the parties and any children.
Policy changes September 1
Based on the success of family mediation for the last 10 years in the Sixth Judicial District, on the benefits documented in our program and on research, the District Court Judges have decided to expand the use of mediation. In divorce and custody cases filed after September 1, all parties will be required to participate in an initial mediation within 90 days of the case being filed. Parties will be required to exchange financial information 60 days after the case is filed, to give them time to discuss the information with their attorneys before mediation.
Mediation is inappropriate in some situations
If a person is afraid to be in the same room with the other party or doesn’t feel able to speak up or disagree with them, mediation may not be appropriate. People should share these concerns with their attorney and their mediator before any mediation is scheduled.
In spite of own doubt
In spite of their own doubt, parties often find themselves able to communicate better and make their own decisions in mediation. Even when they do not reach complete agreements, they are often better able to move on emotionally and legally.
Mediation is here to stay, and everybody wins.
For more information on mediation, call Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa, at 319 248-1940.
Mediation works. Give it a try.