Agreeing to Disagree

Some quick tips to tell if mediation is right for you

Published in 2007 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine — June 2007

There are times when matters just have to be settled in court, but many legal professionals encourage alternative dispute resolution—working things through with the help of a mediator—when possible. 
 
One area in which mediation is becoming popular is family law. In the beginning stages of separation, couples may be weighing divorce options:  litigation or mediation.  
 
Says Howard Bartlett, an alternative dispute resolution attorney with Bartlett Pollock & Besk in Seattle, “I tell people you don’t have to go into mediation with the notion of coming out as best friends, but if you are committed to the process—even if you don’t like each other—the value of reaching agreements will usually provide a more economic, faster and more satisfying outcome.” 
 
Here are some quick tips to tell if mediation is right for you:
 
Children: Mediation can encourage divorcing parents to work together, which can be advantageous as kids grow, according to Bartlett. 
 
Time and Money: Bartlett says the possible benefits of expediency and reduced costs appeal to many divorcing couples. “What I tell people from the beginning is that 95 to 96 percent of family law cases settle. You might be in that 5 percent [that litigate], but the odds are you’ll settle. It’s just a question of when the settlement occurs, which process you use, and how much you want to spend.”
 
Drawbacks: As with any important decision, be aware of the drawbacks. Bartlett says people sometimes find that the relationship with their divorcing spouse is not conducive to mediation. “It does happen,” he says. “If you feel the two of you can’t be in the same room, you can [proceed to litigation] in separate areas.”
 
Bartlett advises caution in choosing a mediator. “If you choose a mental-health person who is really good with the children aspect, but not good with finance or property, it may be difficult,” he says. “It’s important to know what your most important needs are.”
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