Mediation is an increasingly popular form of alternative dispute resolution, used by more and more divorcing couples in Virginia. But, how do you know when mediation is in your best interests?
The goal of mediation is to effectuate a settlement between two opposing parties through the presence of a neutral third party. The strategies employed by mediators vary greatly and the length of the process can range from a couple hours to a number of days. For example, some mediators prefer to work collectively with the parties and attorneys to come up with an efficient solution. Others prefer to work with each party individually and determine his or her most important interests, and then relay those interests to the other party in a less contentious manner. “Offers” may be exchanged back and forth.
Ultimately, the result achieved from mediation is not binding unless and until it is applied to an agreement (contract) entered into by both parties, or a court order. As mediation can be quite costly, the cost of not reaching an agreement can be disastrous for the parties, who then must spend more money litigating the issues as though the mediation never occurred. It is best to go in with an open mind and put any agreed-upon terms into an agreement immediately so that the parties do not have the time to reflect back on what transpired, remember original arguments, and forget the reasons for compromising.
The primary advantage to mediation is that it can be a great alternative to having a court decide the fate of your divorce. A mediator provides a non-biased perspective that provides insight into how a potential judge would view the facts and circumstances of your case. Mediators are often retired judges themselves or persons who have watched numerous trials and can look at cases thoughtfully.
However, depending on the situation, mediation can be extremely beneficial or extremely disappointing. Due to the costs, you and your attorney should carefully weigh whether or not you want to “invest” in mediation before agreeing to it. Mediation is most beneficial when both parties are willing to compromise and know that neither party will leave with everything he or she wants. It is also beneficial when the issues can be categorized and handled one at a time.
Mediation can be disappointing if one or both parties harbor such animosity toward one another that dissatisfying the other party is more important than resolving the issues. It is also disappointing when a party comes in with an idea of what he or she “deserves” and neglects to take into consideration the mediator’s neutral advice. Mediators will not tell you what settlement offer to accept, but they may highlight strengths and weaknesses of the opposing party’s position.
In making decisions regarding your case, it is extremely important to have an attorney by your side to look out for and represent your best interests. A good lawyer will know when a case is “even” or when one side has an upper-hand on the issues, which can help determine the appropriateness of mediation. If you do proceed with mediation, a skilled attorney can understand and relay your interests in the mediation process, and will frame the issues for the mediator in a way that is effective and persuasive. Because your lawyer represents you alone, he or she can better instruct you on what is a “good deal” versus a “bad deal.” Finally, if the direction of the mediation becomes destructive to your interests, a good attorney will know when going to court is actually the better choice.
The divorce attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. are skilled in helping clients determine whether mediation is in their best interests, and assisting them throughout the mediation process. From our offices in Fairfax, Manassas and Fredericksburg, we represent clients all across Northern Virginia. Contact us for a consultation today.