Resolving Family Law Problems Through Mediation

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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Many Iowans' only contact with the court system is when a family law problem arises. There may be a divorce or custody action. This type of case can take a long time. It can cost a lot of money and be very emotional and stressful for the family. Therefore, the Iowa courts have looked for other ways to resolve family law disputes.

The Sixth Judicial District of Iowa covers Linn, Johnson, Benton, Iowa, Tama, and Jones Counties. It has a mediation program for family law cases. All parties to a family law case must attend a mediation session before a hearing or trial will be scheduled.

However, there are times when mediation is not appropriate. The court will usually waive the mediation requirement in such cases. Most of the time, the court will not require mediation if there has been a history of domestic violence and one party requests that mediation be waived. The court will usually not require mediation if it is not practical, such as when one party lives out of state, is in jail, or is not taking part in the court case.

In a mediation session, the parties meet with a mediator, a trained third party, to try to work out an agreement. Mediators can come from many different backgrounds. Some are lawyers, some are counselors, and some are volunteers. The mediator is specially trained to listen to people and to help people reach solutions or compromises. In mediation, each person gets the chance to say what they want and why they want it. They can discuss any feelings or concerns they have. The mediator then tries to help the parties reach an agreement.

Sometimes the mediations take place with everyone in the same room. Sometimes the parties are in different rooms and the mediator moves from room to room. People may go to mediation with a lawyer, but most of the time people go by themselves. Some mediations take only one session. Other times it happens over several sessions.

In the Sixth Judicial District (covering Linn, Johnson, Benton, Iowa, Tama, and Jones Counties), when a party requests a temporary hearing or a trial date, the court orders the parties to attend mediation unless mediation has been waived. The parties then try to agree on who the mediator will be. If they cannot agree, the court will pick a mediator for them.

Before the mediation session, the parties attend a mediation education class. The class explains the mediation process and how to prepare. At the mediation, the parties will discuss the issues to see if they can reach an agreement. If they can, the agreement will be provided to the parties' lawyers. Then the lawyers have the agreement made into court orders. If there is no agreement, then the mediator files a certificate of completion with the court and a hearing or trial is scheduled. Although the parties must attend mediation, they do not have to reach an agreement.

Many people like the mediation process. It lets people make an agreement on their own that is the best for their family, instead of having a judge decide all of the disagreements. It can reduce the fighting and stress between the parties because they are able to compromise with each other. This benefits the children because it will hopefully let mom and dad get along better. It can also cost less than a trial. Although mediators charge an hourly fee, many offer a sliding scale fee based on the person's ability to pay. The costs can also be split between the parties based on what they are able to pay.

Last Review and Update: Mar 25, 2006

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