Mediation is the most common alternative to litigation in court. It involves a person, known as the mediator, who serves as a neutral party to encourage those involved in a dispute to resolve their issues on their own terms. Their job is to move the parties toward settlement and in that effort the parties are challenged to think outside the box and compromise. This process allows the parties to voice their concerns and work creatively to resolve their differences. As such, it is often an ideal way to resolve family law issues, and in North Carolina it is almost always required by the court in child custody and equitable distribution cases. Mediation can also be entered into voluntarily – before or after a lawsuit has been filed.
Whether mediation is court ordered or voluntary, the parties can choose to meet with or without attorneys. If one or both of the parties are pro se (representing themselves and without an attorney), it is important to understand that even if the mediator is a practicing attorney, they cannot give any legal advice. Therefore, it is recommended that prior to attending a mediation you meet with an attorney that can explain your basic rights and options. In complicated matters, it may be wise to hire an attorney who can attend with you or at minimum to be a resource should you have any other legal questions. If attorneys are not present, the mediator can provide a memorandum of understanding that explains what has been agreed upon. This document can thereafter be drafted by an attorney into a legally binding document. If attorneys are present for one or both parties, a legally binding agreement is often drafted and signed at the mediation’s conclusion or soon thereafter.
Preparing for mediation is a big task. In many respects, it is similar to preparing for trial. The parties should have all relevant issues and supporting documentation in hand so that they know what they need to discuss and resolve. Without proper preparation, mediation can be a waste of time and money. If you cannot properly prepare on your own, then consider hiring an experienced family law practitioner, who knows what needs to be collected and how to use a mediator’s time wisely. If your issues are relatively simple and straightforward, then an attempt at pro se mediation may be a wise option.
If you and your spouse are considering mediation, please contact Touchstone Family Law. We have North Carolina DRC trained mediators on staff that are prepared to work with you pro se or along with your attorneys. If you are not sure what is the best approach for your situation, please see us for an initial consult where we can assess your situation, shape the strategy and help you to create the right solution.