June 1st, 2022
Family law mediation is a process where a divorcing couple meets with a mediator to discuss unresolved divorce issues. Getting a divorce is a difficult process, but it is not necessarily an ugly, combative one. Alternatives to divorce litigation are available to people in Minnesota. The mediation process can be helpful for a number of reasons. First, a mediator can help people who want to resolve their family dispute without going to court. Second, the family law mediation process allows the parties to move at their own pace in a confidential setting. Spouses can use mediation to resolve their divorce, or to address issues that may come up after the divorce. Parents can mediate disputes over parenting time or child support. Louise Livesay has worked in family dispute resolution for over 20 years. She can help you understand the process and whether it is right for you. Louise provides clients with a workbook called Our Family In Two Homes to help clients prepare for mediation.
Mediating Minnesota Family Law Disputes
Minnesota encourages the parties seeking a divorce and other family law disputes to use mediation or other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures. The parties to a family law dispute must, under state law, at least consider ADR as an option, unless there has been domestic abuse. ADR offers numerous advantages over litigation. The parties to a dispute can set their own schedule and pace since they are not relying on the court’s schedule. By focusing on resolving differences, ADR processes can be much less costly in terms of money, time, and energy.
Court proceedings for divorces, child custody disputes, and other family law matters use the same procedures as civil lawsuits. While the parties to other kinds of lawsuits might not ever have to see each other when the case ends, people involved in family law disputes might continue to have a relationship for various reasons, such as co-parenting. Traditional litigation is much more effective at promoting discord than cooperation because court is a win-lose dynamic.
Mediation is the most common form of ADR in Minnesota family law cases. When parties to a family dispute choose to use mediation, they have the opportunity to work out a solution themselves without turning any decisions over to a judge. A family law mediator can take the time to gain an understanding of the issues and points of disagreement. They can work with the parties to help them find common ground, create new options, and reach a settlement. A judge might not be able to gain as much insight into the parties’ unique circumstances through the litigation process.
A mediator can often help resolve a family law dispute more quickly than litigation. The process depends on the schedules of the parties and the mediator. In litigation, they might wait weeks or months just to get a hearing date.
When Can Mediation Occur?
Mediation can happen at any point in a family law dispute. The parties may attempt mediation before anyone files court paperwork, or they may do so after they have filed a case. They can even seek a mediator’s help as a final effort to avoid going to trial. The mediator can help them at any of these times. But the parties are always in charge of making the decisions. A mediator does not make decisions for the parties.
How to Prepare for Mediation
Once you have decided to pursue mediation, chosen a mediator, and gotten on their schedule, you can take several steps to prepare for the mediation process:
Identify the Important Issues
Divorces and other family law disputes can present a wide range of issues to address. Nearly all divorces involve the division of marital property and debts, which can be quite complicated. You or your spouse might have a claim for spousal support. Specific issues that need attention might involve what to do with your home, determining if you had any assets prior to the marriage that still exist, or how to divide retirement or investment accounts.
If you have minor children, the final divorce must include provisions for child custody, parenting time, and child support. Every family presents a unique set of concerns, such as a child’s special medical or educational needs. A mediator can help you deal with each of these issues in turn.
Gather and Exchange Information
For mediation to succeed, both parties must be open and honest. Everything said during a mediation session is confidential and cannot be used as evidence in court, which allows people to speak freely.
You should gather documents and information related to the issues you want to address ahead of time. Important information might include the valuation of assets, statements showing income and debts, and records relating to children’s education or healthcare. It is helpful if these are shared with the mediator and other party prior to the first session so the mediator and prepare helpful schedules for the session.
Keep an Open Mind
Divorce and other family law disputes often bring up a range of emotions, few of which are positive. The litigation process tends to make these feelings worse. Part of the goal of mediation is to help you move past those feelings and work towards an agreement. If emotions start to run high during the mediation, the mediator can help steer the discussion in productive directions. You can get a head start by preparing yourself to keep an open mind and avoid letting negative thoughts take over.
What Happens During Mediation?
Mediation tends to be very informal. There are no established procedures like you might see in a courtroom, such as opening and closing statements or cross-examination. Mediations often begin with everyone sitting down at a conference table. The mediator will introduce themselves and give an overview of how the mediation will work. Louise starts with wanting to know what people's goals are for the mediation process and big picture outcomes.
The mediator might keep everyone in the same room, or they might have them go to separate rooms. The mediator would then go back and forth between the rooms to meet with each party separately and convey messages. This process, known as caucusing, can help keep the mediation moving when too many arguments are occurring.
A mediation session could be scheduled for a half-day or full day. Louise generally schedules two-hour sessions to keep people fresh and at their best. If the parties cannot reach a final agreement in one session, they can schedule more sessions. Ideally, they can reach agreements on all of the issues they identified. The mediator can help them prepare a written agreement they can both sign. This agreement can then be incorporated into an order to present to the court.
Family attorney Louise Livesay has guided people through dispute resolution in the Twin Cities area for more than twenty years. Using Minnesota’s family laws, she helps parties to divorces and other family law disputes transform their relationships and move forward with their lives. If you have questions about collaborative law or the family law mediation process, please contact us today online or at (651) 964-3887 to schedule a confidential consultation.
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