The vast majority of divorces, child custody cases, and other family law cases do not reach trial. In the vast majority of cases, agreements are reached between the parties prior to trial. The most common form of settlement is through mediation.
Mediation is where an impartial third party works with the parties and through negotiations back and forth helps promote settlement. A mediator’s job is to encourage communication and help present ideas and solutions that the parties are willing to agree to.
Most cases that go through mediation do reach successful settlement. Because mediation can help spouses avoid trials, most courts will require that parties go to mediation before trial.
If the parties do reach an agreement they can execute a written “mediated settlement agreement.” If the mediated settlement agreement includes certain things such as prominently displayed language that the agreement is not subject to revocation and is signed by the parties and attorneys then the agreement is binding.
A properly executed settlement agreement is binding immediately and even the court has limited power to deny the agreement. A court may only review whether the agreement is illegal or one party entered into it because of fraud, duress, or other dishonest reasons. If no such reason is evident then a party is entitled to judgment on that agreement.
Mediation can be a very effective way to reach a conclusion in a divorce or custody case. Mediation can help craft a custom solution to a party’s particular circumstances that might not be possible in a trial. Mediation can also help the parties save the significant time and money required to proceed to trial.