You have just been served with divorce papers. Your mind immediately envisions scenes from War of the Roses or Kramer v Kramer. This vision you have may not happen in southeast Michigan. Most divorces in southeast Michigan are resolved not by the court but by the parties during mediation. In Oakland County, parties are required by the court to attempt mediation with a trained mediator before proceeding to trial for divorce.
In 2018, there were more than 3,200 divorces filed in Oakland County. Currently, six judges are sitting on the family court bench. This means that each judge handles roughly 500 new divorce cases annually. A divorce could take years to finalize if every case was resolved through the court process alone. However, mediation allows the court to handle this many new filings and gives the parties the final say over the terms of the divorce judgment.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that can resolve a divorce case outside of the court process. Mediation involves the use of a third party who is neutral, referred to as the mediator. The mediator is trained and often will be another attorney who has practiced in family law. The mediator is familiar with the local judges, how the judges will typically rule on a given issue, and what relief the judges usually do not grant. The parties or their attorneys often agree to the choice of the mediator. If the parties cannot agree on a mediator, then the court will select a mediator from a blind draw for the parties. The cost of the mediator’s fees is typically shared equally by the parties.
Mediation can occur in many ways, but facilitative mediation is most commonly used in southeast Michigan. The mediator may have both parties and their attorneys in the same room or may have them in separate rooms. The mediator determines the choice of how the mediation occurs in advance of the parties’ arrival. Both parties present their issues in a written brief called a mediation summary. This is often prepared by the parties’ attorneys and submit one party’s positions and requests for relief to the mediator. After considering both sides, the mediator suggests to each side how the issues can be resolved. Reaching a resolution on the issues at mediation is voluntary. Neither party is required to agree to the mediator’s proposal.
Parties prefer to mediate a divorce to a final resolution because mediation is cheaper than litigating the matter through a trial. Other reasons, such as giving the parties control over the terms of the judgment, will benefit all family members. Other reasons include that the proceeding is less formal than a trial, the proceedings are confidential, and the conflict experienced early in the process is diminished as each party is heard and able to express their concerns.
However, mediation is not always suitable for everyone. If one spouse is hiding assets, then mediation would not be ideal. The court may determine after a hearing that mediation is not appropriate for the parties when domestic violence is present. Mediation may not be appropriate when one party uses fear, threats, or intimidation to achieve the desired outcome or prevent the other party from freely communicating.
Deciding whether your case is right for mediation is a discussion with your attorney. For more information on mediation in divorce cases, contact Melissa Pearce & Associates at (248) 676-8976. Our client coordinator is ready to schedule your pre-engagement meeting. And visit our YouTube channel for more information on co-parenting, communication, and more.