Not all family law matters should be litigated in the public court system. Mediation is an alternative form of dispute resolution that may be appropriate to resolve divorce, child custody, paternity and other types of family law matters. The benefits of mediation include a less adversarial process, privacy and potentially much lower costs.
As a general rule, mediation communications are strictly confidential, cannot be obtained by discovery and cannot be admitted as evidence in court. Because mediation confidentiality facilitates open and candid discussions, mediation can increase the likelihood of successful settlement negotiations for a broad array of litigants, often helping to resolve the most contentious cases by agreement.
While some family law matters are handled exclusively through mediation, some cases can begin in the public court system and move to mediation for resolution of some or all of the issues, after the litigants have obtained sufficient information through the discovery process. At that time, the parties and their counsel may hire a respected retired family law judge to act as a mediator in a settlement conference, which may lead to a settlement.
Mediators are required to be neutral. They cannot favor one party over another or give legal advice to either party. A party who chooses mediation should have a family law attorney representing them. The role of the family law attorney may be as broad as handling every aspect of the mediated process, or as limited as privately consulting with a self-represented client on an as-needed basis.
Even in cases where mediation is not appropriate, a party may prefer to litigate in a more private setting with a privately compensated retired judicial officer. Parties can remove their case from the highly congested public court system and into the offices of counsel or the private judge. They can also schedule proceedings based on their own schedules, allowing the case to proceed more efficiently. The private judge process also allows parties to hire a mutually acceptable judicial officer with extensive family law experience. Ms. Meinhardt has a history of working with well-respected and experienced retired family law judicial officers in California.