What can I expect from mediation?
Mediation provides a setting and structure at a time when communication is sometimes difficult. I will provide you with a checklist of issues that you will need to consider and although a mediator cannot give you legal advice, I can give information about the legal process. The goal of mediation is to find agreement and when appropriate submit the mediated agreement to the court for a judge’s approval, thus making the agreement enforceable.
How does the process work and how long does it take?
I speak with each client confidentially prior to the first session. Each session is scheduled between 1.5 – 2 hours. In the first session I provide each party with a notebook which includes handouts with information about the legal process and a checklist of issues relating to separation and divorce.
For a complete divorce, most couples meet with me between 3 – 6 times depending upon how complicated their finances, how volatile are the emotions, and how able or motivated they are to do some work together outside of sessions.
Must I have an attorney/Do I need an attorney?
In Vermont you are not required to hire an attorney to become divorced; so it is a matter of personal preference. During mediation, some parties use an attorney as a consultant to occasionally ask questions, bounce ideas off of, and clarify the legal issues. Some parties prefer to hire an attorney only to review the final mediation agreement.
Upon request, I provide my clients with a list of “mediation friendly” attorneys. If represented, I may communicate with the attorneys on occasion either between sessions or once a final agreement is drafted. However most often there is little communication between the lawyers and the mediator. I also work with clients who choose not to consult with attorneys at all. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
We have already hired attorneys and are in the middle of the court process, can we still use mediation?
It is always possible to call a “time out” and explore other possible ways to settle your issues. Many people find that mediation can be helpful, particularly when other processes have become frustrating and/or failed.
We have been divorced now for quite a while but because we can’t agree on something about our children, we’ve been told we need to go to mediation to resolve the issue, how does that work?
This is called post-decree mediation. Separated and/or divorced parents are often unable to agree on all issues about their children over time without some help. In addition, many parenting plans filed with the court include a requirement that parents participate in mediation when they are unable to agree on their own. Typically in a case as this, I am contacted by one parent requesting mediation. Then either a letter or email is sent to both parents explaining that one of them is requesting a mediation appointment. I include possible appointment dates and times and ask for a response within a week to ten days. Usually I hear back and an appointment is scheduled.
If the parent refuses meditation or does not respond, I send written communication to that effect to the parent requesting mediation. Post-decree mediation sessions are some of the most successful, often resulting in agreements filed with the court as amendments to the final order.
Is mediation for everybody?
Mediation is most successful when both parties wish to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and when neither is too angry so to be able to work towards resolution. In the event that either party feels afraid or so intimidated by their partner that they are unable to speak up for themselves with a neutral party present then in a case like this, mediation may not be a good idea . If either party has substance dependency resulting in the inability to make or keep agreements, then mediation is typically not recommended. During the intake process the mediator will help you determine whether mediation will be beneficial.
What are some of Susan's other professional experiences?
I have created and led workshops for Woodbury College (Now a part of Champlain College), the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) and for the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts (AFCC) at their annual conferences.
In 2006, Bunny Flint and I co-authored an article for the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence Quarterly Newsletter titled “Parent Coordination, the Vermont Model”.
I’ve presented a day long CLE seminar for the Vermont Bar Association, Family Law Day on Alternative Dispute Resolution and have presented an informational/experiential workshop for the Office of Child Support on Domestic Violence.