Alternate Dispute Resolution & Mediation in California Divorce Cases
For most people, one of their greatest concerns in a divorce is what will happen to the children. At Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox LLP, we focus on helping our clients through child custody and visitation matters.
In California, parties wishing to lessen conflict and work toward more win-win solutions to their disputes can take advantage of many modes of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), including, conciliation court (in larger counties), mediation and collaborative law.
California was one of the first states to establish conciliation courts. The purpose of a conciliation court is to encourage families to attempt reconciliation and reduce litigation in family law cases. In California counties with conciliation courts, parties may petition the court for help in resolving disputed family law matters prior to, or even after, filing an action for dissolution. While the matter is under advisement by the conciliation court, neither party may file an action for dissolution without permission of the court.
In situations where child custody and visitation are in dispute, California law requires the parties address disputed custody and visitation issues through mediation. Mediation is a process in which the disputing parties meet with a neutral third person, a mediator, who works with them to resolve the issues so that further litigation is unnecessary. Although not every case is resolved in mediation, many cases are. In nearly all cases, parties are able to resolve at least some of the disputed issues.
In the early 1990s, Stu Webb, a Minnesota family law attorney, became frustrated by the disastrous affects the adversarial model had on all parties, including the attorneys, involved in family law matters. He determined there had to be a better way, and decided to find a way to end the discord of the traditional method of dissolving a marriage. Together with a group of family law attorneys, Mr. Webb developed a process that depends on a commitment by the parties and their attorneys that they will not go to court.
The defining feature of collaborative law is that the parties and their attorneys enter into a stipulation at the outset of a case, including agreements for informal discovery, open exchange of ideas, a commitment to the process, and most importantly, an agreement that they will not go to court. The parties and attorneys agree that if not able to settle all of the issues in the case when a party decides to take the matter to court, both attorneys must withdraw from the case. The agreement also typically includes a stipulation that documents prepared during the process are inadmissible in court unless both parties agree. Thus, if the process does fail, the parties essentially start anew.
Proponents of a collaborative law process tout that the advantages of using it are substantial. First, most collaborative law cases are significantly less expensive than if pursued through traditional litigation. Second, collaborative cases often take less time than adversarial cases. Finally, an atmosphere of cooperation, rather than conflict, allows the parties involved to focus on the real issues rather than destroying each other, thus ending the process more amicably than they ordinarily might.
However, collaborative law is not foolproof. The biggest disadvantage is the extra cost involved if the process fails and the parties must hire new attorneys. The process may also be abused by a party feigning interest in collaboration, only to take advantage of open discovery.
Learn More About ADR & Mediation in California Family Law Matters
A California lawyer with experience in alternative dispute resolution, including collaborative law, mediation or conciliation court will discuss these options with you. Contact the experienced Inland Empire family mediation attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox LLP in Redlands today.