No one wants to stand in front of a judge, not knowing whose side the court of law will decide to stand behind. Perhaps it’s that feeling of powerlessness that results in a majority of family law cases being settled outside of court rather than inside. No matter how much animosity you and your ex-spouse have for one another, both of you will be statistically more likely to prefer making decisions for yourselves — even if it might seem impossible at first.
This wasn’t always the case. Historically, when the court almost always sided with the mother, the decision was often left up to a judge — because why wouldn’t the mother do what was in her own best interest when seeking a certain outcome?
That being said, these days you’ll be more likely to sit down with a mediator to resolve your differences. The mediator’s decision is final, which means there’s no saying “never mind” and heading back to court when you don’t like the outcome. Because you want what’s best for you and your family, there are a few steps you can take to increase the chances of achieving a desired outcome.
First, find the right mediator. Just like lawyers, they tend to focus on certain niche practice areas rather than the entirety of law. Are you trying to obtain custody of a child? You’ll want to find a mediator who specializes in mental-health or social work.
Retired judges also make great mediators because they’ll let you know what they would do in court. That’s not to say that every judge makes the same decision, but you’ll get an idea of how the case would proceed outside of mediation.
Family law attorneys also make good mediators — but you and your spouse probably already have your own sitting on either side of the table, and that means you won’t want a third in the room.
One aspect of mediation you should be prepared for before you head into the room is how long it will take. It’s not a fifteen-minute process. First you’ll have a joint meeting, then you’ll discuss what terms you’d like to seek with your lawyer and the mediator one-on-one. That usually takes at least an hour for your side and another hour for theirs. Then you come together for another joint meeting. If you can’t agree during that meeting, then guess what: it starts all over again.
More than one session is more likely than not. That means you’ll want to be calm, cool, and collected. Try to give as much as you take, because otherwise you’re going to be in for a long, painful few days.