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Mediation in Family Law Cases

Mediation is a process that helps the people in a family law case reach an agreement about some or all of their issues. Mediation can help reduce the likelihood that a trial will be necessary or reduce the number of things to deal with in a trial. The courts encourage mediation of disagreements in family law cases. Mediation helps keep decisions about what is best for children in the hands of the parents, instead of lawyers or judges who do not know the family. This gives the parents more control over the case and the outcome.

Mediation also can be helpful with divorces or other family separation issues when there are no children. In cases where there are no children, mediation services may not be available through the court. Private mediators can offer services in these situations.

Mediators are neutral parties who are trained to help people settle their problems. Most mediators in family law cases have a background in law, conflict resolution, or mental health with additional training in mediation. Every Oregon county is required to provide mediation orientation in family law cases. The mediators provided by Oregon counties are called court-connected mediators. Court-connected mediators must meet the education, training and experience requirements detailed in Chief Justice Order No 05-028 OJD Court-Connected Mediator Qualifications.

​Any type of family law case may be mediated. Mediators may help resolve issues about child or spousal support, custody or parenting time of minor children, and division of debts or property. Some mediators may not be qualified to mediate some disputes, so before hiring a mediator you should ask if he or she can help resolve your particular issues. Participants do not have to be married and mediation can be used to deal with more than just separation or divorce issues. For example, mediators sometimes help resolve disagreements about grandparent visitation.

Mediation may not be used to negotiate the protective terms of a Family Abuse Prevention Act restraining order.

In some counties parents must attend a mediation orientation if their case involves minor children. The parents may be required to attend a parenting class for separating or divorcing parents and also meet with a mediator to try to resolve any disagreements.

In some counties, the court requires parents to attend mediation before the court will hold a hearing on custody or parenting time. Some counties do not require mediation, but the court keeps a list of private mediators who will help parents in custody and parenting time disagreements when requested.

If a participant feels that mediation is not appropriate because of violence or threats from the other party, the mediator can make changes to the process so that it feels safe. Mediation may be waived in some cases. Contact your local court-connected program for more information about your safety in mediation.

Mediators are bound by professional and legal rules. They must be impartial (not take one person’s side over the other’s and not have a stake in the outcome) and keep things discussed in mediations confidential (not tell others what was said in mediation). There are some things that cannot be kept confidential. For example, mediators must report if a participant is in immediate danger or if a child or elder has been abused.

Mediation usually involves only the participants and the mediator. The participants’ lawyers or other third parties usually are not in sessions unless both participants agree to include them. Sometimes participants are encouraged to give information to the mediator before the mediation session to help the mediator prepare.

If one or both participants are not comfortable mediating in English, the participant(s) may be able to request an interpreter. Contact the mediation program to find out what is available in your area.

Sometimes mediators meet with the participants together. Sometimes they meet with them separately. This depends on the mediator’s preference as well as your wishes or concerns.

If the parties reach an agreement in mediation, the mediator or one of the attorneys can write down the agreement for the parties to sign. The agreement may be given to the court for its approval. The mediated agreement alone does not finish your court case. It must be part of a judgment and signed by a judge.

If the disagreement is not settled in mediation, the case could go to hearing or trial or to another settlement process. Anything that was said in the mediation is confidential. If the case goes to trial or hearing, the judge will not hear any details about mediation.

​The cost of mediation in family law cases is different in each county and sometimes in each case. Some counties offer mediation through a county program. Other counties offer mediation through contracts with private mediators. Some counties provide mediation services at no cost, so long as the case has been filed in that county. Other counties may charge a fee for mediation services. Some mediators may offer reduced fees or even waive the fees for low-income participants. The cost of private mediation varies from mediator to mediator.