Monday, April 02, 2007

How Mediation Compares to Litigation: One State’s Experience

The results of a twelve-year Virginia study were astounding. The authors not only concluded that on average parents preferred mediation to adversary settlement and that mediation produces higher levels of satisfaction than the adversarial process, but also that parents who initially were unable to come to decisions on their own were able to cooperate for their children in the long run.

The study looked at parents who were unable to cooperate regarding custody decisions and petitioned a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Virginia for a custody hearing. They were offered either mediation or the traditional adversary process. They were not given a choice. A sample set of thirty five mediation families and thirty six litigation families was established.

This was a true experimental design in which the parties were randomly assigned alternative conditions to overcome the likelihood that the more naturally cooperative parties would chose mediation over litigation.

The results?

The mediation group experienced significant benefits:
  • Parents who mediated settled their disputes in half the time
  • Parents in mediation were 80% more likely to make all decisions without a third party decision-maker.
  • When unable to make all full agreements in mediation, many parties still settled out of court.
  • Parents were more satisfied at three study points after agreement was reached: 6 weeks the initial settlement, 1 ½ years later, and 12 years later.

Long-term family relationships and psychological adjustment were better in the mediation group:

The study found that an average of 5 hours of mediation resulted in several significant differences in the amount of parent child contact over a period of 12 years.
  • 30% of non-residential parents saw children once a week or more vs. 9 % of those in the adversary group
  • 54% of non-resident parents spoke to their children once a week vs. 11% of those in the adversary group

These findings are published in the article, "Divorce Mediation: Research and Reflections" by Robert Emery, et. al., in Family Court Review, Vol. 43., pp. 22-37, (2005).

For more information about mediation services for divorce, please contact Sequoia Stalder, Esq., at (718) 947-4038.

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