Should you find yourself in the RI Family Court you have unknowingly and unintentionally become part of quite a process. A process that I hope you are coming to understand a bit better with each pithy blog post. One part of the process you may encounter along your journey through the swamp is mediation. First, to distinguish: private mediation and public mediation.
“Private” mediation is paid for by the parties, is done by a certified mediation professional (who need not be an attorney) and is usually / ideally done at the outset of the case to ensure that there is an agreement, or, that if it is contested then it is only so as to one or two issues. It is not mandatory. It can be quite expensive, and there is no guarantee that the “Agreement” that is reached at the end will be upheld by either party (as no judge signs it). It can take several afternoons or evenings to complete.
“Public” mediation is Ordered by a Family Court judge, is no cost to the parties, is conducted by a certified mediation professional (who is an attorney and an employee / officer of the Court) and is usually completed within three hours. Of course, exceptions apply. The lawyers (if the parties have them) are, for the most part, excluded from the heart of the mediation process for fear that no progress will be made if the lawyers’ arguments and egos are involved (fair).
What I refer to in this article is the so-called “public” mediation, which has saved me from strangling a client or opposing counsel or both on more than one occasion. Public mediation has kept me out of prison, and as I eat way more than three meals a day, I am thankful.
Public mediation is confidential (unless a party discusses the intent to harm themselves, a child, or another person which only occurs in one out of every three mediations, tops). You can and should feel free to discuss whatever is on your mind or weighing on your heart. Unlike in a formal court setting in a trial or hearing where the parties are constrained by the rules of evidence and procedure, mediations are, in part, therapy sessions where parties can and do vent their concerns about the other spouse / parent in a hopefully cathartic way. As you can imagine, even with a qualified mediator, the process can take a little while. That is because mediators often have to get to the disease itself, instead of just the symptom. For example, a married couple that claims they are only arguing about the Prius or the settee are often arguing about something else entirely, beneath the surface. It is not ever really about the Prius.
The beauty of mediation for the parties is that they can feel empowered as they are being heard by the mediator, and hopefully, the other party. Also, parties can forge their own agreement, instead of having a decision rendered to them by the trial judge. Parties who come up with their own agreement are more likely to comply with it, which leads to fewer problems in the future.
While mediators cannot give legal advice, they can help acrimonious parties navigate their way through the expensive and stressful family court system. It is perfect for certain Family Court cases and very helpful in nearly all of them. Go in with an open mind, know what you can and cannot concede, and you will likely find that you are able to considerably shorten your stay in Family Court.