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Michigan Family Law Blog

Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer if I am Mediating My Case?

Posted by Cameron Goulding | Sep 02, 2021

Divorce Laws & Procedure Evolve Over Time

Divorce and the laws that govern it, with regards to the outcomes of a case as well as the procedure itself, continue to evolve over time.  Where once it was almost routine that one parent would be granted primary physical custody and the other would essentially have weekend parenting time, it is now much more likely that the court will start from a point where both parents will have substantial and often equal parenting time.  In addition the procedure has evolved, where once a person had to prove fault in order to get divorced, which left many women in a very dangerous position, there is now no-fault divorce so that people are not stuck in sometimes horrific situations.  The more recent development that most people are familiar with is alternative dispute resolution and how it is applied to family or divorce law.

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

The two many types of alternative dispute resolution that apply to divorce cases are mediation and arbitration.  In a mediation, the parties will choose a neutral, third-party mediator and then the court will appoint that person to mediate the case.  The appointed mediator will then attempt to seek an agreement to resolve the case but the mediator has no power to issue any orders or make the parties come to an agreement if one is not reached voluntarily.  Arbitration is very similar, however, it is a little more formal and the arbitrator essentially acts as a private judge and can make all of the decisions with regards to the case and issue orders regarding the decisions.  Most family law courts now require the parties to at least attempt mediation before the trial date.  The family law courts in Michigan, fairly close to the start of the case, will issue a scheduling order, part of that order will require the selection of a mediator and will include a deadline for mediation.  Therefore, some form of mediation is required in virtually every domestic relations matter that is filed in Michigan.

Do I Really Need a Family Law Attorney If My Case Will Be Mediated?

Yes, you absolutely do!  The mediator is a neutral party and is not allowed to give legal advice, the only goal of the mediator is to reach an agreement between the parties, typically regardless of how much more one party may be giving up under the law.  If you do not have a lawyer, you are going in with no idea of what your rights are and no-one to advise you if you are making a good or reasonable decision.  Once you sign the agreement reached at mediation or agree to it on tape, then you are bound by that agreement just as if you were in court and agreed to it in front of the judge.  That means that you might make a foolish decision without even knowing it and then you will be bound by this decision potentially permanently.  

In addition, in order to prepare for mediation, one must often collect documents from the other side that only they have access to or there may be other evidence, documentation and pleadings that have to be put together before the mediation that people who are not trained professionals just don't understand.  There are also timelines and other hurdles that must be handled that non-divorce lawyers are not even aware of and that they might miss which then could negatively effect their case.  Finally, the mediation is often not scheduled until relatively close to the trial date in most cases.  If the mediation does not work or come to fruition, then one must rush around to try and hire an attorney for the trial and the attorney will have to try to catch-up and prepare for trial in a very short-time period rather than over the months they would typically have and is really necessary to properly prepare for trial.

Very frankly, while the advent of alternative dispute resolution often allows a way to reach a mutually acceptable agreement, rather than putting everything up to a judge who may or may not understand or care about the case, it has not made the need for a skilled divorce lawyer any less.  The sooner you involve the attorney in the case, the sooner the attorney can start preparing your case to present it in the best possible light at mediation and later at trial, if necessary.  Please do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a consultation if you are facing a potential divorce or separation.  

About the Author

Cameron Goulding

A native of Oakland County, Michigan, family lawyer Cameron C. Goulding has been providing counseling and legal services of the highest caliber to individuals and families in Southeastern Michigan for over 24 years. Mr. Goulding grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and graduated from Birmingham G...

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