Mediation is the use of a neutral third person to assist two or more parties to reach agreements on issues which may be or could become disputes. Typically, in the area of family law the agreements focus on giving or changing structure to relationships. People intending to marry or to live together may look to plan for their future by defining each person's rights and responsibilities. Those moving apart wish to divide property and debts, provide support for the other or their children, and create guidelines for parenting.
During the meetings typically lasting from one to two hours, the mediator, usually an attorney, acts as an advisor rather than a representative of the parties. It is the mediator's responsibility: first, to provide and enforce rules for the conduct of the mediation; next, to educate the parties on applicable laws and regulations; to facilitate equitable solutions and compromises; and to draft formal agreements. Attorneys may be consulted during the process by either of the parties between sessions or at the conclusion to review the written agreement.
Mediation offers several distinct advantages. First, it often is the most relaxed and least expensive approach to settlement. Often the time required to reach a settlement is greatly reduced and practical concerns such as scheduling are more easily accomplished. Next, the parties exercise the greatest degree of control over the process and its outcome through mediation. For this reason, however, mediation works optimally when the parties are prepared to be active participants.