How to Know Your Divorce Case is Ready for Mediation
When you first file for divorce, your attorney will likely explain that only in very rare circumstances are divorces granted quickly. Unless it is very simple, your divorce case will more than likely last at least 9 to 12 months from start to finish. If you have a more complex case, lots of assets and debts to divide, or contested child custody issues, your case may last even longer, especially if your case must go to trial.
One way to resolve your case sooner is to use a family court mediator. However, a common concern for divorce clients is how they will know if their case is ready for mediation. To decide if your case is ready to try the formal mediation process, it is important to understand what mediation is and which types of divorce cases can typically be resolved through mediation.
What is Family Court Mediation?
In South Carolina, mediation is a mandatory alternative dispute resolution (a.k.a. conflict resolution) process where the parties in a family court dispute, along with their attorneys, meet with a neutral third party (the mediator) to work out an agreement to resolve their differences. The mediator does not serve as a judge or make decisions for the parties; rather, the mediator facilitates communication and discussion between the parties to help them reach their own mutually agreeable resolution.
In most cases, if an agreement is reached, the parties and their attorneys will help the mediator draft the agreement language. Once everyone agrees on the language of the agreement document, everyone will sign the document, and the attorneys will submit it to the Family Court to incorporate into a Final Order to close the case.
There are many benefits to choosing mediation over traditional litigation, including but not limited to: (1) it is usually much less expensive than litigation; (2) it can typically offer a quicker resolution than litigation; and (3) it allows the parties far more control over the outcome of their case than they would have if they left the decision-making up to a judge during a trial.
Types of Cases That Are Well-Suited for Mediation
Even though mediation is required for almost every case filed in South Carolina Family Courts, not every divorce case is a good candidate for mediation. In cases where there are serious documented mental health, substance abuse, or domestic violence issues, mediation may not be possible. Mediation is often most successful in cases where the parties are able to communicate effectively and openly with each other and where there are no major disagreements on the facts surrounding the contested issues.
Cases in which one party is being deceitful, manipulative, or refusing to participate in the discovery process are not typically well-suited for mediation. If discovery hasn’t been completed, it will be difficult to come to a full and comprehensive agreement since settlement agreements typically require full financial disclosure for the Family Court judge to accept the agreement as the final order of the court.
Some examples of contested issues that can be effectively resolved through mediation include child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, and which party will be responsible for certain debts. Generally, any issue on which the parties can reach an agreement through open communication, full fact disclosure, and good faith negotiation will be a good candidate for mediation.
How Your Attorney Will Prepare You and Your Case for Mediation
Your attorney will be your best guide for when to attempt to schedule mediation. He will typically know best when you have enough information about the facts and issues in your case to be able to make educated decisions about how to settle the contested issues.
Additionally, your attorney can help you by educating you about the mediation process, identifying what your priorities and goals are for the case, helping you understand what a reasonable settlement would look like given the facts and circumstances of your divorce, and preparing any necessary documentation or information to take to mediation.
How to Choose the Right Mediator for Your Case
It is important to note that not all mediators are attorneys, not all mediators exclusively handle family court cases, and not every mediator is a good fit for every case. When you and your attorney are deciding which mediator to choose to help you resolve your divorce case, it is important to find someone who has experience handling the types of issues that are present in your case. Not all mediators are the same, and choosing the right one for your case can make all the difference in the world.
Ask your attorney about his specific experience with certain mediators and discuss which one might be the best fit given the issues and personalities involved in your case. As an example, in South Carolina, several retired Family Court judges and experienced Guardians ad Litem offer family court mediation services. These can be great options for complex cases or those cases where the only contested issues are about the children.
If you are considering mediation as an alternative to traditional litigation for your divorce case, there are several things you should take into consideration before making your decision. It is important to understand what mediation is and how it works, as well as what types of cases are typically resolved through mediation. In general, cases where the parties are well represented by experienced family law attorneys, are able to communicate effectively with each other and where both parties are motivated to settle the case to avoid a long, contested, expensive trial are well-suited for mediation.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Your divorce and any settlement you create will be subject to your state’s divorce laws. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, your agreement may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has represented parties in divorce, child custody, and other Family Court cases all across South Carolina for over twenty-five years. If you or someone you know is facing a child custody or visitation case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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