Mediation is a dispute resolution process where a trained neutral and impartial third party, the mediator, facilitates negotiation and conversation between the parties and helps them to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. Unlike a judge or an arbitrator, the mediator is not a decision-maker. Instead, a mediator helps the parties to identify issues that need to be resolved, develop options that will satisfy each party's interests and choose the options that work best for both parties. Mediation occurs within the framework of the law, but it allows the parties to come up with solutions to their issues that can go well beyond the legal remedies that are available to a trial judge. In North Carolina, mediation occurs both before lawsuits are filed as well as after lawsuits are filed.
Child Custody and Visitation Mediation Program: Subject to a limited number of exceptions, whenever a contested lawsuit for child custody is filed, the parties will be referred to the court system's mandatory child custody and visitation mediation program. Participation in the program is designed to focus the parent's attention on settlement of the custody and visitation issues rather than on trial. The program has been quite successful and a significant percentage of parents resolve their custody and visitation issues with the assistance of the custody mediator. The program is provided at no additional cost to the participants. Only the parties and the court's custody mediator participate in the mediation session(s). Attorneys for the parties are not permitted to attend these mediation sessions. However, if the parties achieve an agreement in principle with the assistance of the custody mediator, they will be provided a proposed written parenting plan which they can then take to their respective attorneys to review before they actually sign the parenting plan. Once the parenting plan is signed by the parties, the custody mediator will present it to the Judge who will then adopt the parenting plan as the Court's custody order.
Mediation of Family Financial Issues: "Family Financial Issues" include equitable distribution of marital property and divisible property ("equitable distribution"), child support, post-separation support, alimony and certain claims arising out of contracts between parties such as prenuptial agreements, property settlement agreements, and/or separation agreements. Subject to a limited number of exceptions, whenever a contested equitable distribution claim is filed, the parties to the lawsuit and their counsel are required to participate in a mediated settlement conference which is conducted by a private mediator. Unlike the court's custody mediators who are state employees, the private mediators generally must be paid for their services. Only the mediation of equitable distribution claims is mandatory, however, many times parties will elect to also attempt to settle their other family financial issues at the mediated settlement conference. Further, if the parties, their lawyers and their chosen mediator agree, the parties' custody and visitation issues can also be addressed during the mediation rather than through the court's custody and visitation mediation program.
I am certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission as a Family Financial Issues Mediator and I have participated in numerous such mediated settlement conferences during my career, both as a mediator and as the attorney for one of the parties. If you are interested in exploring mediation of your family law case, please contact me today.