I always try to settle my cases in family court and one of the best ways to do that is through mediation. If the parties settle, they may not be completely happy with the outcome, but they controlled the outcome and avoided a decision from a judge, who may have given them an outcome that they hate. As I tell my clients in legal decision making (custody) and parenting time (visitation) cases, the two people in the whole world in the best position to make a decision in the best interests of the children are the mother and father. If the mother and father cannot come to a decision together, a stranger who happens to have been appointed to be a judge (and who does not know the mother, father and children) will listen to about three hours of evidence and impose a decision on them.
Settlement is better. One good way to work towards a settlement is to use a mediator. A mediator is a neutral person who can give both sides an unbiased perspective and help them reach a settlement. One way to mediate a case with children is a parenting conference. The judge will appoint a parenting conference officer who will hold a conference with both parties for about two to three hours. The conference officer will try to get the parties to work out a settlement regarding the children. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the officer will make a limited written report to the judge about his or her observations during the conference and may make recommendations to the judge regarding the children. The officer will report any partial agreements. Each party must pay $300.00 for the parenting conference, but the judge may order that the parties can make payments. Attorneys do not attend the parenting conference. The conference officer may interview the children.
Another way to mediate is for the judge to refer the parties to Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) for a settlement conference. The parties’ attorneys attend this conference with their clients and the conference will include all issues before the family court. The mediator in this case is an attorney appointed as a judge pro tempore with the authority to enter orders. The parties do not pay for this conference. If the parties reach a settlement the judge pro tem can enter the agreement on the record and approve it as a final order of the court. If they do not reach an agreement, the judge pro tem simply reports to the judge that the parties did not reach an agreement. A good judge pro tem can get a case settled that the parties did not think would settle. ADR settlement conferences usually last about half a day.
Finally, the parties can go to private mediation. Private mediation is expensive and the mediator does not have any authority because the court did not appoint the mediator. The mediator generally follows the same process as the ADR judge pro tempore and may help the parties draft a settlement agreement if they reach an agreement. Private mediation can be very helpful in settling a case when a parenting conference and ADR are not available.
Anyone in family court in Maricopa County, Arizona should at least try to reach a settlement with the other party. Mediation can be very helpful towards reaching a settlement.