The U.S. is known for its litigious predilections. But litigation is expensive, stressful, and it yields uncertain results. Mediation is arguably the most efficient, budget-friendly, and effective means to resolving most any dispute that might otherwise be headed to the courts. This is true for many reasons:
Litigation can drag on for months, even years;
Litigation is expensive; and
Judges are unpredictable and the results of a trial are uncertain.
Mediation, on the other hand, typically lasts only a day (a trial can last several days), the preparation for mediation is a fraction of the preparation necessary for trial (saving the clients substantial money in attorney’s fees), and assuming a settlement is reached, the results are thus certain.
I’m a family law attorney and am also certified as a Family Financial Mediator by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission – wearing each hat (never at the same time) affords me the opportunity to work with folks going through marital separations and to assist them with resolving their differences as it concerns dividing their property, scheduling their shared custodial arrangements for their children, and calculating spousal and child support payments.
Unlike a judge or arbitrator, the mediator doesn’t have decision-making authority – limited only to helping the adverse parties reach a point where they can both agree to a resolution of their conflict. When I start a mediation, I’m often told by one or both of the parties (almost always represented by an attorney) that they have no expectation that their case will be resolved in mediation, already resigned and accepting that their case will have to be decided by a judge. However, in North Carolina, mediation is required for both child custody and equitable distribution (property distribution) claims before proceeding to trial, so these parties have no choice but to try mediation. What I have found fascinating is that the vast majority of cases which go through mediation are settled at mediation – avoiding the courts altogether.
Mediation is almost a magical process. The litigants are kept in separate rooms with his/her respective counsel. They can wear casual clothes, keep a cache of stacks and beverages nearby, even have the opportunity to call friends or family members for moral support in the midst of mediation. As the attorney or mediator, I choose to dress in business casual – no tie, no jacket. My sleeves are rolled up and I’m prepared to do the hard work necessary to find a solution to the problem. Often times, the solution won’t present itself until the 5th or 6th hour of mediation, but when the ice breaks, I can watch the months (sometimes years) of stress begin to melt away, and that insurmountable mountain standing in the way of peace begins to crumble and the parties arrive at their summit of peace.
Whether you are personally a party-litigant or have a friend, colleague, or client going through a separation, be assured that mediation is available and it does yield results. Whether I’m the attorney-advocate or the mediator, I more often than not have the pleasure of watching people leave my office at the conclusion of mediation with a little more pep in their step, knowing that their futures are secure and the conflict that once plagued them has been put to rest and that they can now take the next steps into the next chapter of their lives.