Serving Coquitlam, Vancouver & Lynden, British Columbia
Family Law Mediation Services for Divorce and Separating Couples
If you are currently involved in a family law dispute, or if you are anticipating a contentious family law case, it is important to consider the benefits of mediation. A British Columbia family lawyer can answer questions about family law mediation and can provide more information about how mediation may be able to help you.
What is Family Mediation?
Mediation can be an extremely helpful tool for many people engaged in family law disputes. It is a form of alternative dispute resolution, or “ADR,” that involves resolving a legal dispute without needing to go to court. It is voluntary, and the parties agree to enter into mediation. Rather than presenting two sides of a case and having a judge make a final ruling, mediation allows the parties involved in the dispute to engage in dialogue and come to an agreement that ultimately resolves that dispute. Rather than having a judge as a final decision-maker, a mediator is a neutral third-party who encourages dialogue between the parties and helps to facilitate understanding and agreement.
Many different kinds of family law issues in British Columbia can be handled through mediation, including, for example:
- Division of property;
- Spousal support;
- Child support; and
- Child custody and access.
Mediators in British Columbia are neutral third-parties who do not have a stake in the outcome of a case. They are trained to assist parties in reaching an agreement about a legal matter. Some mediators are trained as lawyers, but they can also be other professionals who have been trained to help people resolve disputes, such as psychologists. Accredited mediators also have a Family Mediation Canada certification. For a mediation agreement to become binding, the parties must execute the agreement as they would any other contract. A mediator does not have the authority to issue a legally binding ruling.
Role of Your Lawyer in Family Mediation
While a lawyer can be a mediator, the mediator is not your lawyer. Both you and your spouse should each have your own family lawyer who will represent you through the mediation process. Your lawyer can discuss strategies for negotiating with the other party during mediation, helping you to reach a negotiated mediation agreement that reflects your needs and concerns. Your lawyer will also be essential in reviewing the resulting agreement from mediation before you sign and make it binding.
The following are the general steps of mediation for most family law cases:
- Pre-mediation occurs, where both parties meet with a mediator to determine whether mediation is an option for resolving the dispute;
- Both parties sign an Agreement to Mediate;
- Mediator will meet separately with both parties to learn about the dispute;
- Mediator will meet with both parties together in a mediation session to address the dispute and the issues at stake;
- More than one mediation session may be necessary, during which time both parties (with assistance from their lawyers) can propose options to resolve the dispute, while the mediator facilitates the negotiation process; and
- If parties can reach an agreement, they can sign an agreement that becomes legally binding.
Ultimately, the goal of mediation is to allow the parties to participate in a non-adversarial process through which they can play a role in resolving their dispute and can reach an agreement that becomes legally binding.
Advantages of Mediation for Family Law
There are many benefits of mediation for family law in British Columbia, such as:
- More amicable way to settle disputes;
- Likely to cost far less than going to court;
- Reduced timeline for settling a family law dispute;
- Parties have control over decision-making rather than leaving it to third parties (arbitrator or judge);
- Process is confidential; and
- Mediation promotes communication between spouses, and encourages spouses to maintain communication.
Mediation on the whole tends to be less expensive, quicker, and more amicable than adversarial processes like litigation.
Disadvantages of Mediation for Family Law Matters
While family law mediation can be extremely beneficial for many families or spouses engaged in a family law dispute, it is important to keep in mind that mediation may not be appropriate for all parties. Some potential disadvantages of mediation may include:
- Cannot compel disclosure of certain types of information in mediation;
- Dispute encourages more resentment between the parties;
- One of the parties refuses to participate in mediation in a meaningful manner; and
- History of domestic or family violence.
Mediation vs. Arbitration
If you are considering family mediation, you may have learned about other forms of alternative dispute resolution for family law matters. It is important to understand the differences between mediation and arbitration in particular. While both are forms of ADR, there are some clear distinctions between them. Both mediation and arbitration have a neutral third-party who facilitates the ADR process, yet an arbitrator, unlike a mediator, has the ability to make decisions.
To be clear, mediation is not binding, while arbitration is binding. The arbitrator will issue a binding decision on the case, which means that the parties will not have the ability to have a judge hear the dispute later on. The mediator does not issue any type of decision, but instead functions as a facilitator. When the parties cannot reach an agreement in mediation, a court can hear the case. Differently, an arbitration will always result in one party winning or losing the dispute. While arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution, it is still an adversarial process in which both sides present evidence for the arbitrator to make a binding decision.
Typically, parties will share the costs of mediation. This practice also may be true in arbitration, although in some cases the losing party will pay for the arbitration. Whether you are going through mediation, arbitration, or another form of alternative dispute resolution, you should always have an experienced family lawyer representing you.
Since mediation still requires parties to present ideas and to negotiate toward a resolution, it is extremely important to work with a family lawyer who can help you to frame the key issues and to negotiate a fair agreement with the other party in your family law case.
Contact a Family Lawyer at Norton Law
Our lawyers at Norton Law are knowledgeable practitioners who focus primarily, and almost exclusively, in the area of family law. Our top priority is representing our clients and your interests regarding their family law matters, including resolving their disputes outside of the courtroom in order to save them unnecessary time, expenses and retain more control in the mediation process.
If you’re seeking an alternative to going to court to resolve your separation or divorce, then Norton Law is able to help. Call us at (855) 810-5286 to book a consultation with one of our British Columbia family lawyers for assistance with your agreement and mediation needs.