In many family law cases, including divorce and modification actions, the parties opt to try and resolve their differences through mediation. In Georgia, there are quite a few judges who will order the parties to attempt resolution through mediation before the case is set to be heard by the Court.
Mediation is a process in which litigants use a neutral third-party to facilitate settlement negotiations. The mediator has no authority in ordering a resolution. The parties still maintain 100% control over whether or not they reach an agreement. For those parties who are unable to reach agreement, they still have the right to try their case before a judge/jury.
Reaching an agreement through this form of dispute resolution certain has its benefits. Through mediation, the parties are able to open the lines of communication that may otherwise be affected due to highly intense emotions. Mediation fosters a spirit of cooperation. Resolution through mediation may also be much quicker than trying a case. Yet another benefit to mediating a case, specifically in situations where public disclosure is a concern, is the private nature of mediation.
In order for a mediation to be successful, there are a few procedural and practical things that the various parties should keep in mind. The following tips may provide a more positive outcome to any mediation:
1) Carefully select your mediator. Ask your attorney what he/she knows about the mediator and his relationship with the Court and opposing counsel. A mediator loses the all important trait of neutrality when his personal relationships are too close to the one party.
2) Schedule the mediation strategically depending in the needs of your case. It is generally best to mediate only after some discovery has been conducted, but not too close to the expiration of the discovery period. You may get some information at the mediation that would trigger the need for additional discovery requests to be issued. You want to make sure you have time for this, if needed.
3) Be prepared. At the time of the mediation, have your case in order. Bring in documentation that may be needed to demonstrate your position. Though you will not be “trying” the case as you would before a judge, it is important that you are able to accurately demonstrate your position, specifically when it comes to calculating support amounts.
4) Show up early. Always be at least ten minutes ahead of time.
5) Walk into the mediation with an open mind to finding win-win resolutions.
6) Maintain control over your emotions. It is understandable that mediating over very intimate issues such as child custody may bring a rise in emotions. Be cautious and plan ahead for this so your emotions do not get in the way of rational decision making.
7) Be creative. There are ways to accomplish what you want by making it look like the other party has won.
8) Be flexible when possible. This shows that you are willing to work together.
9) Watch the clock. What you want to avoid is spending an entire day mediating and have nothing accomplished. If, after an hour or so, it becomes apparent that the parties are not moving in the direction of resolution, end the mediation and reserve your resources for trial.
10) Most importantly, REMEMBER THE CHILDREN. The ultimate goal in any domestic proceeding should be to see to it that the best interests of the children have been met. Never lose sight of this.