Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution that is common in family law disputes in Missouri. Instead of having the court decide custody, visitation, or other family law issues, the parties work with a mediator to come up with their own solutions. Most custody disputes are referred to mediation as a way to settle the issues. Individuals who have been referred to family court mediation should be aware of the mediation process before starting visitation and custody mediation. If you have any questions about family law mediation in Missouri, contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today.
Do I Have to Go to Mediation for Family Court in Missouri?
According to Missouri Supreme Court Rules 88.03, mediation is:
"The process by which a neutral mediator appointed by the court assists the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement as to issues of child custody and visitation. The role of the mediator is to assist the parties in identifying the issues, reducing misunderstanding, clarifying priorities, exploring areas of compromise, and finding points of agreement. An agreement reached by the parties is to be based on the decisions of the parties and not the decisions of the mediator. The agreement reached can resolve all or only some of the disputed issues."
Most family custody and visitation disputes are referred by the court to mediation. However, either party can opt-out of mediation for “good cause.” Good cause may include a history of domestic violence or abuse between the parties. If you have questions about court-ordered mediation with a history of domestic abuse, talk to your Missouri family law attorney about your options to opt-out of mediation.
Family Law Mediation Process in Missouri
During mediation, a third-party mediator works with the parties to identify the issues in dispute and come to an agreement both parties can accept. The mediator may meet with each party separately and the parties together. In custody disputes, some of the common issues will involve:
- Shared custody,
- Visitation schedules,
- Health, education, and religious decisions,
- Where the children will live, and
Generally, coming to an agreement during mediation is preferable to a court making decisions in your case because you can come up with your own solutions. If you cannot come to an agreement during mediation, your case may go back to the courts to have disputes decided by the judge.
There are other benefits to mediation beyond solving your own disputes, including cost and time-saving. Mediation is generally faster than litigation. It can take a long time for you to go through the family courts. Your family court dates may be adjourned or rescheduled multiple times. It can take months or longer for a family dispute to be determined by a judge. Mediation can take as little as a couple of hours.
Another benefit of mediation is that is confidential. Court hearings and cases are generally part of the public record. This may mean your words and any evidence will be part of the court record in your case. Generally, mediation is confidential and there is no court reporter taking down what you say.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Mediation?
It is a good idea to talk to a family law attorney before mediation to understand the process, discuss your options, and get advice on common issues that come up in mediation. Without talking to your lawyer, you may end up with a mediation agreement that is not in your best interests.
Whether or not you have a lawyer with you during mediation is generally up to you and the other party in dispute. You may both decide that you want to have your lawyer during mediation. Alternatively, the mediator may want to deal with the parties individually, without the lawyers present. While mediation involves a third-party “mediator” who guides the parties through the process, it is ultimately in the hands of the parties involved.
It can be beneficial for some parties to have a lawyer present during mediation, especially where there is an unequal balance of power. One spouse may be more forceful or aggressive in negotiations which can take away from the value of mediation. Having your lawyer present may prevent one party from ruling the discussion. Talk to your family law attorney about any concerns you may have before going through mediation.
Having your lawyer with you during mediation can also make sure you have someone to advocate for you during the process, keep the negotiations on point, and let you know about the benefits or drawbacks of your agreement. Your family law attorney also has the experience to suggest additional solutions.
If you go through mediation without a lawyer, you may want to make sure you have a chance to review any agreements with your attorney. An agreement can be subject to the condition that you have an opportunity to discuss the agreement with your lawyer. This is important because there may be legal repercussions that the parties did not consider when coming up with the agreement.
Child Custody and Visitation Mediation Attorney
If you have any questions about family law mediation in visitation or child custody disputes, talk to your Missouri family lawyer. Your attorney can advise you on the best option for your situation to protect your rights and provide for your family. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm in Raymore online or by calling (816) 331-9968.