Thanks to an alternative approach to divorce, an area in Pennsylvania has seen a decline in child custody cases.
Divorce mediation brings in a neutral mediator who helps former spouses come to an agreement on each aspect of their divorce. This mediator may or may not be a lawyer, but he or she is well versed in the areas of divorce and family law.
This process results in a stronger long-term relationship between former spouses, is easier on children, expedites agreements, reduces expenses, and prevents courts from making decisions, keeping more control between the divorcing parties.
Nationally speaking, about 11% of custody cases are decided during mediation, but in Centre County, the mediation process has significantly reduced the amount of custody trials. According to Executive Director Bonnie Millmore of the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice, which mediates custody cases for the county court system, two out of three cases leave with a full or partial custody agreement.
This means that there are fewer cases going to court, which means less taxpayer money is being spent on the issue.
Before the mediation process went into place three years ago, Judge Bradley P. Lunsford would hear about 20 cases per year. Within the last year, he’s only heard six.
“Less litigation means we have more time to focus on other issues and we do not need to expand an already over burdened court system,” said Lunsford.
In addition to child custody cases, divorce mediation can also help settle matters of property distribution, retirement, child support, and taxes.
Divorce mediation can also save divorcing couples thousands of dollars, and hours of time. Litigation costs between $300 and $500 per hour, resulting in about $20,000 per person. It also takes about two years to complete. Mediation, on the other hand, costs about $300 per hour, and has a documentation preparation fee of between $1,800 and $3,800. In total, that amounts to between $2,000 to $5,000, a fraction of what litigation costs. It also only takes about three to six months to complete.
Of course, mediation isn’t the right way to go for all couples. It’s best for couples who mutually agree that divorcing is a good idea, aren’t intimidated by one another, want to stay on decent terms, disagree in a civil manner, haven’t lied to each other about important matters, understand the financial situation, have no desire to revive the marriage, and haven’t had a problem with domestic abuse.
If couples meet that criteria, perhaps it’s best they get a mediator.