Mediation vs. Litigation – How family lawyers help resolve disputes?

Family disputes involving divorce, child custody, spousal support, and property division are emotionally and financially draining. While litigation is sometimes necessary, some alternatives save time, and money, and reduce conflict. 

Mediation is a process where disputing parties work with a neutral third party (the mediator) to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. It is a voluntary, confidential, and non-binding process that allows participants to shape their solutions with the mediator’s guidance. Mediation provides a safe space for open communication and options analysis that satisfy everyone’s interests to the greatest extent possible.

Benefits of mediation

There are many advantages to family mediation over litigation:

  • It is significantly less expensive than going to court. Mediation fees usually go to both parties.
  • It is much faster than the litigation process, which takes years. Mediation typically be completed in weeks or months.
  • Mediation is more flexible and collaborative, while litigation usually involves an adversarial, win-lose dynamic.
  • Solutions are mutually constructed by the parties themselves, rather than imposed by a judge. It promotes compliance and satisfaction with the outcome. 
  • It allows for confidentiality, while litigation proceedings and records are public. 
  • Mediation is less disruptive to family relationships, especially when children are involved. It reinforces cooperation and communication skills.
  • Participants typically report higher satisfaction with mediated agreements vs court-imposed decisions.

When is mediation appropriate?

Mediation works in many scenarios, but is especially useful when:

  • Emotions are running high between parties. An experienced family mediator calms tensions and makes communications productive.
  • Parties want privacy over embarrassing financial or personal details. Mediation remains confidential.
  • Preserving relationships is a priority (ex. for parenting purposes). Mediation enables structured communications and relationship repair.
  • Deviating from state laws could produce a better solution. Courts must adhere to statutes, while mediated solutions are limitless.
  • Parties are willing to compromise and listen. Mediation requires collaboration and open minds.

Of course, mediation is still voluntary. If either party believes negotiation would be futile, or there are serious power imbalances or safety concerns, litigation may be necessary. However, even then mediation could help settle some issues and simplify court processes.

Mediation process

The mediation process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Initial consultation: The mediator explains the process and ground rules, and then hears brief statements from each party.
  2. Information sharing: Parties share their full perspectives and any documentation with the mediator. 
  3. Identification of issues: The mediator summarizes points of agreement and conflict to frame the core issues.
  4. Bargaining and negotiation: With the mediator’s guidance, offers and counter-offers are presented in pursuit of a settlement. Creative solutions are explored.
  5. Drafting a memorandum of understanding: When resolution is reached, the agreements are written up, reviewed, and signed.
  6. Lawyer review: Before finalizing, parties review memorandums with their lawyers (or other trusted advisors)
  7. Closing and filing: Documents are re-signed and filed with the court to make the agreement legally binding.

Selecting a family mediator

Choosing the right mediator is key. Look for:

  • Specific training and credentials in family mediation. General mediators may not understand family dynamics.  
  • A neutral, impartial third party. They should have no biases and enable fair negotiations.
  • Substantial experience mediating family disputes, including divorce and child custody.
  • Affordable fees that fit your budget. Many will charge hourly or per-session rates.
  • Strong communication, listening, and facilitation skills. They help establish trust and steer difficult conversations.
  • Patience and compassion. Divorce and separation are deeply personal, often involving volatile emotions.

An experienced family mediator has all the above qualities. This translates to a smoother mediation process and increased chances of reaching a satisfactory agreement.