In Utah, where I practice, mediation is required before the court will allow you to certify your case for trial. So the first answer to this question is, "It's required".
Mediation offers a lot of advantages compared to taking your case to trial.
Mediation allows you to remain in control. Any agreements reached at mediation are completely voluntary, meaning you can decide what to accept or not to accept. By contrast, going to trial means you give up control to the judge -- who will make a decision/ruling based on only a few hours' exposure to your case.
Mediation is much less expensive. While you usually do have to pay a mediator, most cases can be resolved in a few hours. Compare that to the tens or hundreds of hours of attorney time that are necessary to take a case to trial.
Mediation is faster. A contested divorce or custody case can take months to get ready for trial. A mediation usually only takes a few hours, or maybe a few days at most.
How should I prepare for mediation?
First, know what the issues are. Most mediations begin with the mediator asking questions about the case: what are the marital assets, what are the parties' incomes, how old are the children, etc. Know the answers to these questions.
Second, be ready to talk honestly and openly about your issues and concerns.
Third, before the mediation, decide realistically what would be a good outcome. I encourage clients to think of a "best case" and "worst case" scenario, and then to think of what "middle case" scenarios would be acceptable.
Fourth, remember that both sides need to agree for the mediation to be successful. If you can present a solution that addresses both sides' concerns, you'll have a better chance of resolving the case.
Finally, think realistically about what happens if the case doesn't resolve. What could go wrong at trial? How much will your attorney fees be if the case goes further? Are those possibilities worse or better than what is being proposed?
What do I need to bring to the mediation?
If you have any questions about what to bring, ask your attorney or (if you're not represented) ask the mediator.
As a general guideline, you should bring copies of all the court documents in your case so far. You should also bring whatever financial declarations or summaries are used in your jurisdiction (in Utah, it's a Financial Declaration). If there are other critical pieces of evidence you want to talk about, you can bring those too.
Bring a notepad and a pen.
You can bring an attorney, or you can bring a "support person" such as a friend, parent, or sibling. You shouldn't plan on bringing more than one person without permission of the mediator and/or the other party.
Bring a positive attitude.
What can happen at my mediation?
Well, just about anything. There aren't any rules for mediation.
The parties in a mediation don't have to follow any pre-set guidelines. Obviously, you can't reach an agreement that would be illegal or otherwise unenforceable, but you don't have to follow what a court would do. If you and the other side have a unique situation, you can reach a unique solution.
On the other hand, there are times when it's pretty clear what a court would do, and that can be the model or template for what you do in your case. Or, you can partly follow the template and then change something to make it fit your situation.
The beauty of mediation is that it allows you to solve your own problems. It give you the power to decide how your case, and your future, will turn out.
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