Often, when a person comes into our office they assume that every family law dispute ends up with a judge handing down a verdict, after a public hearing. In family law, most of our cases involve some of our clients’ most intimate personal and financial concerns. As such, in most cases, our clients would prefer their case not be decided in the courtroom. There are many reasons for this: a client may have personal or financial privacy concerns; a client may be intimidated by the formal atmosphere of the courthouse; or a client may be afraid of having someone who knows very little about them and their children making a decision with such lasting implications. Fortunately for clients hoping to avoid court, there are other options.
One alternative to court is to make an agreement between parties and their attorneys. There is nothing (in the vast majority of cases) prohibiting parties from coming to an agreement on a previously disputed issue. Attorneys can draft the agreement into legally binding language, and have the new agreed order entered with the court. If the parties communicate well, and are not too far apart on the disputed issue, this can often be the most efficient option. It allows parties to keep private information private, and saves the cost of hiring a mediator or arbitrator.
Another alternative to court is mediation. In mediation, a trained (usually paid) mediator facilitates communication and assists parties in crafting a mutually agreeable resolution. The mediator does not hand down a decision, but instead facilitates and encourages the parties to create one themselves. If a resolution is reached, the mediator and/or the attorneys will draft the agreement into legally binding language. Mediation offers privacy (it is [with limited exceptions] a confidential process) and personalized results (as it is the parties themselves who decide the outcome).