No-fault divorce represents a major change in how family law processes divorce in America. More than twenty years ago, California led the way by becoming the first state to institute the no-fault divorce law. Many attorneys and mental health professionals believe that the mandatory mediation law for custody and visitation disputes is the next most significant change in family law in California. The reason for this is simple. It works.
Mediation offers several advantages for families. None are more important than people usually being better off when they can determine for themselves what forms their lives will take. The era of someone else taking care of families is behind us. Also, people working out their own solutions helps taxpayers by not having to expend unnecessary resources to resolve family conflicts.
Because of the large number of applicants wanting jobs as family mediators, hiring is selective. All of the mediators have advanced degrees in one of the mental health disciplines and most hold licenses in clinical social work or marriage, family and child counseling.
In more than half the cases, a written agreement results from mediation. There is usually considerable anger and conflict in the beginning of the mediation process, but the mediators work with the parties to focus on the children. With no-fault divorce, parties aren’t able to tell their stories in the courtroom. People need the opportunity to express their feelings and usually they are expressed during mediation. By listening and reflecting the pain of the parties, mediators convey understanding and aid parents in working out agreements that are best for the children. Agreements are then placed in writing. After the agreements are signed by the judicial officer, they become court orders. Mediation, however, may be terminated in some cases such as those involving victims of domestic violence. If no agreement can be reached, no report is presented to the judicial officer.
Mediation is not always entirely confidential. For example, a mediator can recommend child custody or psychiatric evaluation. A mediator may also recommend to the court that counsel should be appointed to represent a child or children. In addition, if there is suspicion of child abuse, a report is made to the Department of Children’s Services. Appropriate persons will be warned if the mediator believes that a person may cause harm to another person or to himself or herself.
Although it’s usually painful for parties entering mediation, knowing the quality of the services rendered and the ensuing excellent rate of effectiveness usually achieved eases the initial inhibitions of those involved.