Family Mediation Agreement

By Beverly Bird

When it comes to dissolving a marriage and providing for the children involved, courts generally prefer that parents reach their own agreement rather than resort to litigation. Mediation is a means toward this end. It allows you to decide the terms of your divorce on your own, rather than have a judge – who doesn't intimately know your family – make orders for you in family court.

When it comes to dissolving a marriage and providing for the children involved, courts generally prefer that parents reach their own agreement rather than resort to litigation. Mediation is a means toward this end. It allows you to decide the terms of your divorce on your own, rather than have a judge – who doesn't intimately know your family – make orders for you in family court.

Mediation

Courts rely on various methods of alternative dispute resolution to help spouses resolve family law issues. Mediation is one such method. In mediation, parents meet with a trained third party who helps guide the discussion, occasionally making suggestions so spouses can overcome their differences to find a middle ground that works for the entire family. The mediator doesn't make decisions, and he typically cannot issue orders. Some states, such as Maryland, require that spouses have legal representation during court-ordered mediation, but in others, representation is optional. Sessions are confidential. The mediator generally can't reveal anything you say to another party, including the judge assigned to your case or your spouse's attorney. In some states, including Ohio, you can waive the right to confidentiality.

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Court-Ordered Mediation

If you think it might benefit your family, you and your spouse can voluntarily attend mediation. In some states, however, the court will order you to do so, typically to resolve custody matters when they're in dispute. You may also be able to discuss financial issues, however, if both you and your spouse are agreeable to this. If you voluntarily attend mediation with a private mediator, you can usually try to work out an agreement regarding any issues you like.

The Agreement

You may or may not reach an agreement in mediation. If you don't, your case typically goes back to the judge, and he will decide issues for you at trial. If you do reach an agreement, what happens next depends on the procedures in your state. In New Jersey and Maryland, the mediator will typically prepare your agreement in written form. You and your spouse – or your attorneys if counsel represents you – will receive a copy, and you have a short period of time during which to review it and make sure it's what you want and to what you agreed. If it is, you can sign it, and the agreement goes to the court. Otherwise, you can go back to mediation and try to modify the agreement. The final version is typically incorporated into your divorce judgment or decree; a trial is not necessary unless some unresolved issues still remain. In some states, particularly if you and your spouse attend mediation voluntarily, you or your attorneys may be responsible for drawing up your agreement in written form and submitting it to the court.

Enforcement

When your agreement is incorporated into a final decree of divorce, this typically gives family court jurisdiction to enforce it, just as if the judge issued the decree subsequent to a trial. You can also return to the court to modify its terms post-divorce, typically with regard to support or custody. As when a judge decides your terms, you must usually establish that a significant change of circumstances occurred since your divorce was issued.

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What Is the Role of Mediation in Custody Battles?

References

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Law: How to Mediate Your Divorce

Mediation can help divorcing spouses reach agreement on their divorce terms, thereby avoiding a long, expensive court battle. However, only a court can actually grant the divorce itself. A divorcing couple who wants to use mediation must finalize the divorce in court after reaching agreement on the issues with the help of their mediator.

What Happens Next When a Divorce Agreement Is Agreed to in Voluntary Mediation?

If you and your spouse attend mediation as part of your divorce, you have the opportunity to reach agreement about your divorce's terms. This can allow you to shorten the divorce process and lessen the expense of getting divorced. However, mediators cannot grant divorces so you must follow up your mediation with some court paperwork.

What Is a Binding Contract for Divorce?

Whenever you sign something in the process of your divorce, it’s usually binding. Whether it is a contract depends on the nature of the document. A divorce complaint or petition is binding because you’re swearing to the facts it contains, but it's not a contract. Contracts obligate the signers to take or abstain from taking certain actions.

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