There are 3 different kinds of mediation you may hear about in the family law court:
1. DSO: (Free) Daily Settlement Officers are volunteer lawyers who come to the courthouse and your judge may send you to that person to try to settle your case on the day of your hearing after one or both of you have already filed court papers potentially filled with allegations about the other spouse.
2. Conciliation Court: (Free) Mandatory mediation at the courthouse by a therapist which is required before the judge can talk to you about a request that either parent has made regarding custody or visitation. These mediators are only allowed to help with custody and visitation (and not child support or any other issues).
3. Private Mediation: (Costs vary) At any time before or during your child custody, legal separation or divorce matter, couples can hire one neutral lawyer (or a non-lawyer) to help resolve all of the issues and concerns, including spousal support, property division, child custody and child support. From our experience, a mediated settlement prior to ever asking for a hearing date almost always costs a fraction of the cost of each spouse hiring an attorney to make court appearances for temporary orders and a trial. In fact, in many cases an entire mediation may cost the same as the initial retainer fee for one single court attorney.
CHOOSING YOUR MEDIATOR
There are a few decisions you will need to make in order to settle your case. Besides what method to use (such as co-mediation, mediation and collaborative law), you will need to make sure that you and your mediator and/or lawyer are a good fit. Experience, training and a passion for settlement are all qualities to look for. If you have children, you may want to know whether your mediator has raised any children. In addition, you may have an idea of what you are looking for in a peacemaker, and then change your mind because you have found someone who is a good fit in other ways. For instance, you feel at ease and trust her. This could very well be the most important factor above all others.
WHAT’S THE ROLE OF A MEDIATOR?
The role of a mediator is that of a neutral to facilitate discussions leading to your family law agreement. The mediation process will typically have both parties in the same room with the mediator to work out the terms of your divorce or custody agreement. Some people think of a mediator as a referee. Since the mediator is an unbiased neutral, both of you need to meet your neutral mediator together. If one of you goes to meet your mediator alone, the other spouse/partner may feel that the mediator cannot be neutral after meeting without her/him. Therefore, when one of you calls the mediator to schedule an initial consultation, make sure not to discuss your case; just schedule the mediation consultation when it is convenient for both spouses/partners and the mediator.