I’m a big believer in mediation. I think most cases benefit from mediation, but divorce mediation is a little different and as a divorce lawyer I have a different perspective on mediation than I do as a personal injury lawyer.
In Rhode Island, you can’t have a divorce without going to court, testifying and having the appropriate orders entered. If you successfully mediate a personal injury case or a contract claim you can wrap the whole thing up without ever filing pleadings or stepping foot in court. Not so in a divorce. Mediation does not avoid the necessity of court in a divorce so one of the advantages of mediation in general does not apply here.
Mediation Plays an Important Role in Rhode Island Family Court
That’s not to say that mediation doesn’t have a place in divorces in Rhode Island. It plays a very important part in divorces and in family court matters in general. In fact, in some cases the family court requires mediation. But it requires mediation with family court mediators.
That’s correct, the family court has mediators they provide to divorcing couples and they provide them without charge! So, don’t go to a mediator before you file for divorce who you will have to pay when you have a better option. Outside mediators are well intentioned and may be very skilled at resolving conflict, but they need to know what a family court judge can and cannot order and they frequently don’t. The mediators who work for family court certainly do.
Advantages of Family Court Mediators
- They are free
- They are experienced and knowledgeable in family law
- They will help you arrive at an agreement that is fair, covers everything, and will be acceptable to the judge
- They are available to you from shortly after you file divorce until its conclusion and even after if you need them for post-divorce issues
- Did I mention they were free?
There Are Exceptions
Of course, there are exceptions. There are some outside mediators who are very familiar with Rhode Island divorce law. There are several divorce lawyers who provide mediation services separate from their roles as a lawyer for a particular party and they certainly know what they’re doing. But they can’t represent one of the parties to a mediation in the actual divorce because it’s a conflict, so at least one of the parties has to hire at an attorney to file the pleadings and represent them anyway. As a result, it’s difficult to justify using and paying the significant cost of an outside mediator for a divorce when the parties still need to hire divorce lawyers and can get a free mediator after they do file.
But Often the Outside Mediators Don't Understand the Rules
There have been several instances where a couple has come to me with an agreement reached with an outside mediator and I’ve had to explain to them that the judge won’t go along with certain provisions of the agreement relating to child support or alimony, for instance, because they violate certain laws or principles. Or, the mediator didn’t deal with one or more important issues that had to be dealt with and the resulting conflict over these unresolved issues unraveled the mediated agreement that the parties spent so much time and money on.
There is an Emotional Aspect Unique to Divorces
Another unique aspect to the divorces, as opposed to other types of litigation is the emotional aspect. Sometimes the only thing that results in an agreement between divorcing couples is enough time to adjust to the fact that it’s happening. A certain amount of time just has to pass for the couples to reach a point where they can let go and resolve the issues. That time does not usually occur at the beginning of the process so often we don’t send divorcing parties to the family court mediator until enough time has passed for the pain to subside a bit and for the parties to understand the range of their options.
The Family Court Mediators are Available to You The Entire Time
Once you begin a divorce and until your divorce is concluded, the Rhode Island Family Court mediators are available to you at no cost. So just because you or your spouse filed for divorce or just because you can’t afford to pay for a mediator in addition to paying for lawyers that doesn’t mean that once the divorce is filed you are stuck with conflict. Most experienced divorce lawyers know the range of possibilities for a reasonable resolution of pretty much any divorce scenario and will try to get you there without conflict anyway. But when that doesn’t seem possible, before you go to trial you still get to have the benefit of an experienced family court mediator to help you get to a peaceful conclusion. At no additional cost!
If you want to know more about the family court mediation process or have any other questions about divorce, custody, child support, alimony, etc., contact me right away!