Mediation for Family Law Matters - An Alternative Way Forward

couple talking to mediator

Ending a marriage or relationship where there are minor children is never easy, but it isn’t always full of conflict, the way it seems on television. If the idea of spending the next 6 months to a year fighting over your divorce or custody case in court seems like something you would rather avoid, there’s good news. Mediation can help diffuse conflict, resolve your case more quickly, and save you time, money, and public embarrassment.

How Michigan Mediation Works for Family Law Cases

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that couples can use to resolve their divorce or custody case outside of court. A variety of ADR options exist, and they can apply in any civil lawsuit or court case, but mediation is particularly well-suited to domestic disputes like divorce and child custody. Mediation allows spouses and their attorneys, if they have them, to meet together with a neutral mediator and work through what life will look like after the divorce is final with a focus on what is best for that particular family. Mediation can help the parties address every aspect of divorce applicable to a case, including:

  • Child custody and parenting time
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (sometimes called alimony)
  • Property distribution
  • Debt assumption
  • Insurance coverage

Unlike arbitration, case evaluation, or other types of ADR used in civil lawsuits, mediation helps couples and co-parents take decision making power into their own hands and focus them on the future -- anticipating problems that may arise, rather than the ones that pushed them to the point of divorce. A facilitative mediator can help the parties discuss those problems ahead of time and come up with solutions or processes they will use to resolve issues when they happen. If an unanticipated issue arises , follow-up mediation sessions can be scheduled to help the parties find a solution without having to go back to court.

Using Early Mediation to Shortcut the Divorce Process

Very few divorce complaints filed in Michigan today are resolved by a trial. Well over 90% of all divorces settle outside of court -- often at mediation. Mediation is so effective that Michigan family law courts refer almost every divorce or child custody case to mediation before scheduling them for trial. Although, there are some cases where mediation isn’t appropriate (such as domestic violence), but most of the time, sitting down with a mediator is an efficient and effective way of resolving disputes and coming to a division of assets, interests, and parenting time that both parties are satisfied with.

However, court-ordered mediation often happens months into the formal adversarial divorce process. By the time parties get to the mediation table they may have already been to court over temporary custody, parenting time, and support, discovery motions, and other adversarial proceedings. Every trip to court costs the parties money and runs the risk of increasing hard feelings between them. Sometimes, these formal processes are necessary, but in other cases, using early mediation before you file for divorce or immediately after you file in Washtenaw County, Oakland County, or elsewhere in the state of Michigan can help you shortcut the divorce process and save everyone involved time, money, and aggravation.

In 2019, Michigan divorce law (specifically the court rules) changed to adopt a new procedure that allows parties who use early mediation, the collaborative divorce process, or other forms of ADR before a case is filed with the court, to have their marriages dissolved more easily. The process involves only a single hearing before a judge, which can be scheduled as early as 60 days after the petition and consent judgment are filed with the court. Indicative of the less adversarial process of this option, this method also dispenses with the use of adversarial terms such as referring to the parties as Plaintiff/Defendant and instead opting for a more neutral Party A and Party B.This process can also save you and your spouse the time and effort of formally disclosing assets, answering extensive questions, and going through Friend of the Court evaluations in relation to matters affecting minor children that can sometimes increase hostility instead of moving families toward resolution.

When Mediation is the Best Alternative Way Forward

Divorce mediation isn’t the answer for every couple. When emotions are high or there is an unbalanced power dynamic, other processes may work better. However, mediation may be the best alternative if,for example you and your spouse:

  • Are able to speak to one another civilly, at least with the help of a mediator
  • Have resolved some, but not all, of your divorce issues
  • Have unique schedules or circumstances that are difficult to explain to the court
  • Want more control over the outcome of your case
  • Need to protect your privacy or avoid disclosures in court
  • Are trying to reduce the cost of your divorce

An experienced family law attorney can help you determine if mediation is the best route for your particular case.

Mediation costs can be less than other forms of divorce and custody resolution options. If appropriate for a particular case, parties can attend on their own mediations -- without lawyers -- and work with the facilitator to resolve their dispute and prepare the documents needed to get a divorce finalized in court. Keep in mind, however, the mediator will only serve as neutral to guide the parties but cannot offer independent legal advice or counsel.

Even Attorney-assisted mediation can save money compared to a fully litigated trial and get a solution that will work better for the parties in the end. When there are complicated issues involving finances, business interests, parenting time, or special education needs, to name a few The mediator and the attorneys can help the parties brainstorm solutions to their challenging problems that the trial court judge may not have thought of or have the jurisdiction to order. By avoiding hours of attorney time preparing for and going through trial, parties in attorney-assisted mediation can save money and get a solution that is better tailored to their unique circumstances.

At NSSSB, we help many couples and co-parents who come to us resolve their Michigan divorce or custody disputes through mediation. Our Ann Arbor divorce mediators will help you resolve all facets of your case, with or without attorney support. We also help our divorce and family law clients negotiate effective resolutions by representing them in attorney-assisted mediation. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys or mediators.