Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that offers many advantages over litigating your divorce in a family court trial, where you are bound by the judge's decision. Mediation allows you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse to retain control over the settlement of your issues. A mediator assists you in working out a resolution to the major issues in a divorce -- such as the division of marital assets, spousal support and custody issues relating to your kids -- that both parties find acceptable.
When Does Mediation Occur
If you are considering splitting up, you can hire a private mediator to help you prepare a settlement agreement before you even file for a divorce. After a petition for divorce is filed in family court, couples in North Carolina are required to mediate. Both parties are required to mediate at the courthouse with a court-appointed mediator to try to resolve any custody issues. For all other issues, you're required to meet with a mediator as well, although you might not mediate until after a temporary hearing in court, which is scheduled 60 days after the divorce petition is filed.
Role of Mediator
A mediator is a neutral party who assists you in working out your differences. Mediators are not allowed to offer legal advice. The mediator's role is to facilitate communications between the parties, help them discuss the issues in a constructive manner, diffuse animosity between the couple and draw up agreements that resolve all or some of the issues between the parties. Mediators in North Carolina often are family law attorneys or former judges, but clergy members or mental health professionals also can be court-appointed family law mediators upon certification by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission.
Advantages of Mediation
Mediation enables you to discuss a broad range of issues in a less adversarial setting than during a court trial. You can write a mediation agreement in any manner you desire, which gives you a great deal of flexibility in crafting the best solution for your particular situation. The mediation process often diffuses anger and animosity, enabling you and your soon-to-be ex to maintain a better relationship after divorce, which is especially important if you have kids.
If you reach an agreement on all issues through mediation, it is written up and presented to the court for approval as part of the divorce decree. As soon as the divorce decree is signed by the judge, the agreement becomes legally binding on both parties and can be enforced if either spouse violates its provisions. If you resolve only some issues through mediation, an agreement regarding those issues is submitted to the court, and the judge decides all other outstanding issues at trial. If mediation fails entirely, you then put your fate completely in the hands of the judge and lose control of your own destiny.