News today from the South Carolina Judicial Department announced a March 14, 2013 Supreme Court order making Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester Counties subject to mandatory alternative dispute resolution for “cases filed in the circuit court and the family court on or after June 1, 2013.” Previously the local family courts were pretty uniform about requiring mediation for all cases that required more than two hours of docket time. Now any contested case is going to require mandatory mediation.
This will certainly benefit local family court mediators, who stand to obtain even more business. It will further benefit the wealthier litigant, who can force the opposing party to jump through the expense of mediation prior to getting “their day in court.” I’m not sure if this change is beneficial otherwise.
Typically, family court cases that have the potential of settling in mediation get mediated. However, when I have to deal with an unreasonable pro se I don’t want the hurdle of mediation to come between my client and a trial. My two family court trials the past three weeks have both been against pro se parties and neither case would have benefited from mediation. We just needed to get to court and let a judge make a decision.
My impression of many of the recent Supreme Court rule changes regarding family court is that they appear reasonable but really do little more than add litigation expenses. Mandatory mediation is yet another example of a rule change that ultimately benefits the legal professional more than the client.