Family Mediation

Family Mediation

Every family is different, and no one knows your family like you. That’s why it makes sense for you and your spouse or ex to make the decisions about your family’s future, instead of having a judge do it.

That may seem like an impossible dream, but with mediation, it can be your reality. At Colbert Family Law, LLC, we offer family mediation services to help families resolve their own disputes and plan for their futures.

What Mediation Is

Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party helps parties to identify the issues they need to resolve, and to negotiate with one another to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. The focus is on facilitating communication between the parties. Mediation has been gaining favor over the last several years as a less stressful alternative to litigation for resolving family law disputes. In many cases, it is also less expensive than litigation.

What Mediation Is Not

Mediation is not a hearing in which the mediator renders a decision, or even an opinion. The mediator is not an arbitrator or judge. Neither does the mediator represent either party in the dispute. And although the mediator may use techniques drawn from family therapy theory in facilitating the negotiation, mediation is not therapy.

When is Mediation Appropriate?

Mediation is appropriate for almost all types of family law issues or disputes: divorce, property settlement, child custody and visitation, dissolution of unmarried households (including same-sex partners), and more. In situations where the parties will need to deal with each other on an ongoing basis, such as co-parenting, mediation can be especially helpful as it lays the groundwork for future respectful communication and problem-solving.

When is Mediation Not Appropriate?

As helpful as mediation can be, it is not appropriate in all circumstances. Mediation is likely inappropriate if there has been domestic violence or a significant power imbalance between you and the other party. Mediation also may not be the best choice if you feel the other person is intentionally trying to hurt you, or if you don’t trust them (or yourself) to be honest. The mediator will help you and the other party decide if mediation is a good choice for your situation.

Colbert Family Law, LLC has years of experience assisting families in identifying issues and options for resolution through mediation, and in guiding them toward the creation of an agreement that meets their needs.

Colbert Family Law, LLC serves clients throughout Alaska, from Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley to remote villages. If you have a family dispute to resolve, contact Colbert Family Law, LLC online or at (907) 279-5001 to schedule a consultation to learn more about the benefits of mediating your family law matter.

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Common Family Mediation Concerns

Why shouldn’t I just hire a mediator?

Clients often ask us, why shouldn’t they just hire a mediator to do their divorce or other family matter?  Why should they consult a lawyer in addition to or instead of a mediator?  Mediation is often a good way to resolve a family matter such as divorce.  However, a mediator is a neutral person and is not allowed to give legal advice to either party.  The mediator’s job is to find an area of agreement.  If you are unaware of your legal rights — or just do not understand them — you might agree to something that would be bad for you.  Or you might miss a chance to agree to something you had not even thought of.  You will nearly always get a better end result if you consult a lawyer before you go to mediation.  The lawyer can help you figure out whether your issue is appropriate for mediation, or what preparation you ought to do before mediation, or if you should bring a lawyer to mediation with you.  Consulting a lawyer is not a commitment to go to court.  In fact, a skilled lawyer can help you to avoid court.

Can the collaborative approach be used for problems other than divorce?

The collaborative approach (for more information on this, go to www.alaskacollaborative.org) is suitable for many legal issues in addition to divorce.  Family legal issues are very sensitive and personal.  Many - if not most - clients would like to address their problems in a way that is less public and less confrontational than going to court.  The collaborative process meets this need.  It can be used to negotiate pre-and post-nuptial agreements; child support; child custody modifications; college support issues; and most other family legal problems you may face.  It is also very useful for negotiating relationship contracts and break-ups for couples who are not legally married.  If you find yourself in any of these situations, we would be happy to try to help you.

What do I need to think about if I want to change custody of my children?

In custody cases it is not unusual for a parent to agree to the entry of a custody order they’re not all that happy with because they think that it will be simple enough to change later on.   This isn’t necessarily so.

To change custody so that a new court order is issued, the parent that wants to change it must show two things.  The first is that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the last custody order was entered.  The court can be fairly strict as to what amounts to a significant change in circumstances and what doesn’t.  For instance, a change of circumstances the court will consider does not include situations where a parent has simply changed his/her mind and does not like the current custody situation anymore; situations where the child simply says he/she wants to live with that parent; or situations where the parties previously agreed between themselves that custody would somehow change later on.  Some examples of changes in circumstances the court will pay attention to are things like one parent moving out of the state or community; one parent having developed legal problems or substance abuse issues that are bad enough to interfere with his/her parenting responsibilities; or one parent being with a partner who abuses substances or abuses the parent.

If the parent meets the first criteria, the second thing a parent wanting to change custody must establish is that the new custody plan they are offering to the court meets the child’s best interests.  Parents often assume that if they get over the first hurdle, that custody will in fact change.  That isn’t necessarily so.  Courts can and do find that even when it agrees that circumstances have changed enough for it to reconsider custody, the current custody order is still meeting the child’s best interests.  For instance, if the change in circumstance was substance abuse related, the court will look to see if that parent is in treatment or otherwise has the issue under control.  It is not unheard of for parents like these to defeat a motion to change custody if they “rehabilitate” themselves while the attempt to change custody is going on in the court.  These kinds of things can be very frustrating for the parent wanting to change custody.

In a nutshell, the court takes its orders regarding custody very seriously, and does not review requests for changes in them lightly if the parents do not agree.  Every parent preparing to enter into an agreement about custody that is going to be made an order of the court needs to think about the terms of the agreement they are making, whether they can really live with it, the effect it will have on the child and on them in the future; and whether the agreement will wear well practically and in other ways.  If not, you may want to think again about going ahead with having the court enter that order.

What is the difference between collaborative practice and mediation?

The most important difference between collaborative practice and mediation is that in the collaborative process, you have your own lawyer to advise and support you.  A mediator cannot give you legal advice, and cannot assist you in reaching your goals.  The mediator is a neutral, whose job is to facilitate an agreement.  Many people seeking a divorce or addressing some other family problem do not have the legal knowledge to use a mediator without the help of a lawyer, and many are too distraught and upset to participate successfully in mediation.  If your issues are complicated or particularly emotional, collaborative law might be a better option for you.

Why should I hire an attorney for my divorce; can't we just go to mediation?

This is a question often asked by people who are thinking of a divorce. Mediation is a wonderful tool that can save money and minimize the conflict that is inevitably involved in getting a divorce. However, going to mediation without understanding your legal rights first can be very dangerous. A competent mediator will not give either person legal advice about his or her rights. A mediator cannot tell you if a settlement is a good idea for you. So before you go to mediation, you should see a lawyer first, so that you understand what your rights are, and what you might be giving up. Consulting a lawyer does not mean you have to involve the lawyer in the mediation, nor does it mean you will end up in court. It simply means that you will go to mediation with your eyes open.

The kinds of things a lawyer can help you understand before mediation include: What property is considered marital property that the court will divide? What is the likelihood of getting, or being ordered to pay, alimony? How likely is it that a court would order joint custody of the children? What does the law say about child support? If you do not know the answers to these questions, you could end up with a divorce agreement that either gives away things you did not even know you could ask for, or leave problems unresolved that will return to bother you later.

It is also very important that you have all the documents you need before you go to mediation. If you are not sure what property or debts you have, you will not be able to get a good agreement. You should not simply rely on your spouse to tell you what you need to know. Because you are getting divorced, each person has goals and desires that are not necessarily the other spouse’s goals and desires. After all, if you agreed on everything, you probably would not be divorcing.