Mediation in NC Divorce and Family Law
- What is Mediation?
- Family Law Courts in North Carolina
- Types of Family Law Court Mediations
- What are the Benefits of Mediation?
- What Happens in a Mediation Conference?
- What Happens after Mediation?
What is Mediation in North Carolina?
Mediation is a guided negotiation which helps separated or divorcing spouses reach a fair settlement without having to endure a trial. It is conducted in an informal, private setting instead of in a courtroom. The mediator is an objective neutral third party trained to facilitate productive conversations and move the ex-spouses toward resolving their issues. Mediators in North Carolina must be certified if the mediation is court-ordered.
Family Law Courts in North Carolina
Certain counties in the state have been designated as “family law courts.” These counties are given special funding which provides for child custody mediators, special courts for family cases, and certified mediators for issues of support and property distribution. The benefit of family law courts is that one judge is assigned to the case from beginning to end allowing the judge to have a better grasp of the facts and dynamics involved in that particular case.
Once a case is filed in a family court county, all court dates are assigned so all parties know the case schedule ahead of time. That removes the necessity to re-calendar a case over and over in order to get it heard.
Many smaller counties in North Carolina are not designated as family court counties and do not have the benefit of those programs. Getting a case before the court in these counties can be a long and frustrating process.
Types of Family Law Court Mediations
There are generally two types of mediation associated with North Carolina family law cases – family court custody mediation and mediation for support and property issues.
First, in family court counties, custody mediators are paid by the state to conduct custody mediation before going to trial. Attorneys are not allowed to participate in this mediation process. It is attended only by the parties and the mediator. If the parties reach a mediated agreement, the mediator must send the tentative agreement to the parties’ attorneys for their approval. If the agreement is approved by the attorneys, it is signed by a judge and becomes a court order having the same effect as if the parties had gone to court and had a trial.
The second type of mediation in family law courts deals with support and property issues. This mediation is overseen by a certified family law mediator who is not provided by the state and the parties must split the cost of the mediator. Attorneys do participate in this mediation process. Generally, each party and their counsel are in separate rooms and the mediator ferries back and forth between them trying to resolve their issues. If a resolution is reached, it is forwarded to the judge assigned to the case. The judge signs the agreement and it becomes an order of the court.
What are the Benefits of Mediation?
Mediation is particularly beneficial to divorcing couples who are willing to work amicably toward a fair settlement and who are ready to compromise when necessary. Since mediations are less formal than trials, the meeting(s) can be more easily arranged to accommodate all the parties’ schedules. Negotiations can progress in a far less stressful atmosphere than that of a trial.
Mediations allow the ex-spouses to define their own unique needs since they know their circumstances far better than a judge could know. The parties can identify the issues on which they agree and the issues on which they disagree. Even if they cannot resolve all the issues, they can narrow their disagreements and litigate only the unresolved disputes in court.
Generally, the mediation process takes less time than trials. Avoiding lengthy and expensive courtroom litigation is one of the most beneficial aspects of mediation – in terms of both emotional and financial costs.
What Happens in a Mediation Conference?
Mediation conversations are private and will not be shared by the mediator. Mediators cannot be subpoenaed to testify in court – their mediation conversations are privileged. The mediator will facilitate a discussion between the divorcing spouses and their attorneys, hopefully guiding the parties to a settlement on the issues.
Usually, the mediator will begin the meeting by explaining the mediation process. Both parties can then explain their positions on the issues. Negotiation between the two parties then begins with the mediator navigating the process. He or she will attempt to introduce reason into the conversation if it is missing and will encourage each party to see the situation from the other party’s side. The mediator will not make judgements or decisions but will act much like a referee or guide.
>Greenville NC Mediation and Family Law Attorney Cynthia Mills
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