One of the more positive developments in the area of family law (divorce, custody, etc.) in the last few years in the requirement that most cases be mediated before a contested trial may occur. Mediation is an informal attempt to resolve a case without going to Court. The wounds that are created by a contested trial may last years. I have never had a client walk out of a contested divorce trial, no matter what the result, and feel glad that they have gone through the process. Contested trials (in custody cases) also tend to destroy any chance that the parties can work together in the future to raise their children. Mediation has significantly helped reduce the scars caused by divorce and custody fights. In a mediation, the parties meet with a mediator (usually a lawyer experienced in family law) and the mediator helps the parties work out their issues themselves. Many times, the parties participate in the mediations without their attorneys. When given the opportunity (and in fact the obligation) to sit in a room and listen to the other person's concerns, a majority of the couples we see are able to reach an agreement that results in the case being settled.
There are a number of reasons that mediation is preferable to a contested trial. First, parties are more likely to abide by a resolution that they actually had a hand in reaching. Second, the parties are in a far better position to come up with a solution that works for their unique circumstances that is a judge. Third, it is cheaper to resolve a case at mediation, and fourth, you can generally resolve a case faster if settled at mediation. Finally, and most importantly, mediation can hopefully help the parties come out of a divorce case or custody case realizing that, no matter what they think of each other, they still have to be partners in raising their children.
I (Chris Pittman) am a mediator and I have seen case after case where the parties were able to put aside their differences and actually communicate at a mediation and work out their issues. That does not mean their marriage was saved, but it does mean that they can hopefully co-parent their children a little better than they could if they went through a highly contested divorce trial.
Hopefully this post gives you a little more insight into the benefits of mediation, especially in a family law setting.

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