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Mediator full employment act hits the tri-county area

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.

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  • Sally King-Gilreath

    I’ve been to several mediations with pro se litigants who were complete wild cards, and because the mediator was able to gain their trust, the cases settled. The trials would have been very costly and time consuming.

    • And I just tried a support modification case in which a pro se and her “legal representative”-husband sent defamatory letters to the court on a weekly basis, sued me (and three judges, two guardians, and two of her previous attorneys) and filed a grievance against me. I couldn’t get to trial fast enough.

      BTW, you mediated the divorce–successfully.

      • Alissa

        Oh boy – I know which one this is! The lawsuit didn’t get too far.

  • Hi,

    I practice family law in California and out here they require mediation in all custody disputes, but mediation is free and the mediators are county employees. Anyways, it is interesting to read about issues you are facing in your jurisdiction.

    Matthew Rosenthal

  • At a time when folks are splitting debt and stretching dollars, I don’t like the added expense. However, I agree that it can save cost of trial in the long run.

    As for California — it’s an interesting idea, but in a state already posting a $16B budget deficit, is it the most wise expenditure of taxpayer funds?

  • Greg,

    I share your concern in working with Pro Se individuals in the mediation process–especially when it becomes mandatory. I was recently assigned a case by the Mediation and Meeting Center wherein the husband was Pro Se. He didn’t want to work with me as I wasn’t an attorney and he felt like the mediator would either: make the decisions for them in a mini-trial mode and/or would have pity on him because he didn’t have an attorney and therefore give him some advice. Challenging…..

  • Greg –

    I agree with your analysis. While mediation is certainly helpful in many cases, not everyone can afford it, and not every case benefits from it.

    I think it will ultimately cause problems here for less wealthy clients, especially when there are children’s issues involved. In a typical case, the client (who is of average financial stability, but not particularly wealthy) will be paying (1) a lawyer $200/hour, (2) a mediator $75/hour, and (3) a GAL $75/hour [or more, depending on the circumstances]. It just isn’t feasible for a lot, maybe even a majority, of people.

  • To paraphrase Vinny Gambini: Everything that guy just said ain’t bullshit.

  • Krystal

    Mediation his costly and feels like a force to agree. I went to mediation against my son’s father concerning child support, visitation and custody. My son’s father was pro se and claiming to be unemployed. I submitted all my income, financial declaration and affadavits and he provided nothing. We paid the mediator $300.00 a piece. The mediator tried to make me agree to everything and tell what he know what the judge going to do

  • Anonymous

    I was a party in mediation two days ago and knew beforehand it was going to be a waste to time due to my ex-wife’s consistent unwillingness to change her mind. I was ruled into court for willfully not paying “all reasonable college expenses, including tuition, housing and books”. When I signed that agreement 10 years ago, I was naive and made very little money. My wife and I at the time were very amicable in our decision to divorce, so I went Pro Se. In my mind I thought it would be reasonable for me to have a say into where my son went to college or at the very least, they would find out how much I could afford before enrolling him in a technical school 200 miles away(in state) in a program which had exorbitant fees and required mandatory housing in a specific housing project where the costs were over $3000 per semester. In the year leading up to my son applying for colleges I voiced my concerns to him and his mother that we should be making very good economic decisions at this time since my financial situation was not good. I lost my home with the housing market crash, so there went my college expenses plan. I was ignored on all fronts. I was never provided and estimated costs for the school he was accepted until days prior to the financial deadline I received any email from my Ex-wife explaining that approximately $11,000 was due in 8 days. I was shocked. My previous experience with a technical college was with my step son who lived at home and obtained financial assistance with the Lottery. He paid $900 per semester. If my son would have gone to a local technical college his costs would have been the same. But when you add program and housing fees into the equation it made the overall amounts increase by an additional $5000. I wasn’t able to pay lump sums as she had directed me to and so she had her husband pay it and ruled me into court to pay it back. Obviously my argument was the violation was not willful, and also the extra fees were not reasonable for the type of school he was accepted. A local technical college courses will transfer to a university the same. Now back to the mediator…she begins our meeting explaining that she doesn’t know how the judge would rule so, I shouldn’t be influenced by any comment if she does inadvertently use statements about how a judge will perceive arguments or how a judge would rule. Then the mediation begins and she launches straight at my position that my arguments are moot and the agreement does not read that I have any say so in where, when my son goes to school or how much it should cost. She says I am responsible for it and every hour it takes for me to understand that maximizes my exposure to more and more attorney fees. In the meantime my ex wife decided that she was going to add 9 years of medical insurance premiums to the case based upon how our agreement read which increased her original $10,000 amount to $59,000. Her attorney had never filed a new rule to show cause or amended the existing one prior to this sneak attack. My attorney was adamant we were not including those fees in the mediation but the mediator did it anyway. The cost of this mediator for the day was $1800 total. We didn’t settle. I actually moved from my original position by 400% and restricted it to the college case and my ex wife who refused Not to exclude the insurance premiums, only came down by less than 50%. I think the process was absolutely ridiculous and I feel there is no way out for me. This is the worst money pit situation that I have ever heard of. When I signed that agreement 10 years ago, no way did I ever believe I would not be included in decisions. I truly believed that reasonable costs meant costs that were reasonable yo me based on my financial ability to pay.

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