No one knows your family better than you. No matter how well a judge listens to the evidence presented in court, he or she will never truly understand what it is like to be a part of your extended family experience. That's why the law in Indiana allows you to use mediation to design your own agreement for the court's review.
WHAT IS MEDIATION?
Mediation is a party-driven process. In other words, through mediation, you and the individual with whom you have a conflict are given the control to design a plan which best addresses the complexities of your unique family. Of course, designing a plan can sometimes be difficult in the midst of a conflict. It can be hard to see the middle ground, and that's where a mediator may be helpful.
A mediator serves both parties equally as a neutral "sounding board" and helps to brainstorm workable solutions. A good mediator listens without bias to both sides of the conflict and may then challenge one or both parties' thinking on issues. A good mediator provides neutral information on Indiana law so both parties have the information needed to make educated and fair compromises about the conflict. A good mediator will help you and the other party create and write a durable agreement -- one that strives to address the details of your family life in a meaningful and long-lasting way.
HOW DOES MEDIATION HAPPEN?
Mediators are engaged in the following ways:
- Initial Divorce or Paternity. Two individuals have never been to court and do not have attorneys, but they think they can resolve their divorce or paternity by agreement. Together, they contact a mediator and go to the mediator's office. The mediator helps them to draft their agreement and submit it to the court.
- Post-Hearing Adjustments. Two individuals have been to court in the past in a divorce, custody, child support, paternity, adoption, or a guardianship case. They may or may not have attorneys. They believe that their current conflict can be resolved without going to court. Together, they contact a mediator and go to the mediator's office. If they have attorneys, the attorneys can come to mediation too. If all goes well, the agreement can be drafted and submitted to the court, and another costly hearing may be avoided.
- Complicated Case. Multiple individuals are in conflict about guardianship, paternity, adoption, or custody matter. It is a very complicated situation perhaps in and decides involving a guardian ad litem, grandparents, aunts, uncles, multiple fathers, or even the Department of Child Services. Everyone agrees it would be better to work out the details of such a complicated situation outside of court since there are so many people and so many interests involved. Collectively the group contacts a mediator to help craft a unique agreement for the court's review.
- Court Ordered. The judge reviews a case and decides it might be best for the parties to try to work out an agreement outside of court. He or she will then create a panel (list of three) of mediators and instruct the parties to either choose a mediator on their own or each strike a mediator from the panel. The mediator remaining on the panel after each party strikes becomes the court-ordered mediator. When court-ordered to mediation, the parties must, in good faith, try to work out an agreement with the assistance of the mediator before returning to court.
Sometimes a mediation session will last an hour. Sometimes a mediation session will be broken up into multiple 3-hour windows over the course of a few days so that no one becomes fatigued. Sometimes a mediation session will last for 8 or 9 hours with minimal breaks. Each situation is different. In the end, a full agreement on all the issues of the conflict may be reached, or a partial agreement may be reached, or no agreement may be reached. If a full or partial agreement is reached, the mediator will draft the agreement. The parties (and any attorneys) will review the agreement and sign the agreement. Once the agreement is signed, the mediator will forward it to the court for review and approval. In most cases, the court will approve the agreement at which point it becomes a binding order of the court, and the parties can avoid the cost of a hearing on the agreed upon issues.