Introduction to Family Financial Mediation
If you are reading this brochure, it is likely you are involved in a dispute which has been referred to the Family Financial Settlement Program for mediation. This means that you will be required to meet with your spouse or ex-spouse (the other party) and, with the help of a mediator and your attorneys, to try and resolve financial disputes arising out of the dissolution of your marriage or the support needs of your children. You may be wondering why your case has been referred for mediation and what the process is all about. This brochure is designed to answer these and other questions.
You should think of mediation as an opportunity to resolve your disputes in a way that is acceptable to you without the delay and risk involved in lengthy litigation and trial. Mediation is not a way for you to get everything you want, but it can be a means to satisfy many, if not most, of your needs and enable you to get on with your life.
Many North Carolina district courts now provide for mediation of the custody and visitation disputes that arise when parents decide to live their lives separately. Mediation is also available statewide for most civil claims filed in North Carolina’s superior courts. As a result of these programs, judges, attorneys, parties, and the members of our General Assembly have learned that mediation works — that it helps resolve disputes early on and gives those most directly involved more control over outcomes.
In 1997, the General Assembly adopted legislation providing for a district court program to help parties resolve family financial disputes. The Family Financial Settlement Program provides parties an opportunity to mediate claims concerning the division of their marital property as well as claims for child or spousal support. It is to this program that your case has been referred.
What Happens During Mediation?
Mediation is an informal proceeding. The mediator, a trained neutral with no stake in the outcome of your litigation, meets with you, the other party, and your attorneys to help you discuss the issues in dispute and to consider options for resolving them. The mediator will work to open channels of communication, to help clarify your and the other party’s needs and positions, and to explore settlement options. Though you will be participating in the discussions and problem solving effort, you will not be called upon to testify or be cross-examined by the other party. Unlike trial, mediations are not open to the public.
The mediator will begin the conference by explaining the ground rules for your discussions. Then, each side will be asked to make a brief opening statement describing the marital property, the issues in dispute, and his or her needs and expectations. The mediator will then begin the negotiation process. At some point in the conference, the mediator may meet separately with each party and his or her attorney. This is known as a caucus. The caucus provides an opportunity for the mediator to speak frankly and it gives the parties an opportunity to share information in confidence with the mediator.
Ultimately, it is the mediator’s goal to help you and the other party, with the advice of your attorneys, reach your own agreement. Unlike a judge, a mediator will not impose a settlement on you. If you and the other party are able to reach an agreement, the terms will be put down in writing and signed at the conference.
What Are The Benefits of Mediation?
A successful mediation allows you to avoid the time and stress involved in lengthy litigation and assures both you and the other party of an outcome that you find mutually acceptable. In addition, where children are involved, a successful mediation can sometimes mark a turning point in the parents’ relationship. They become motivated to communicate more effectively with the goal of cooperatively resolving future disputes, financial or otherwise, that arise as they parent from separate households. Many cases can be settled in mediation. However, if a dispute cannot be resolved, it is important for the participants not to view their efforts as a failure. Often, the dialogue that began in mediation goes forward in the days ahead as the parties and their attorneys continue their efforts to find a satisfactory resolution.
Source: North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission pamphlet “Mediated Settlement Conferences in Equitable Distribution and Other Family Financial Cases”
Attribution: Chief Justice Sarah E. Parker, Supreme Court of North Carolina, Judge W. David Lee, Chairman, North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission