Mediation and settlement conferences are two forms of resolving legal problems instead of going to court. The purpose is to arrive at a mutually agreeable resolution of the dispute, whether before or after filing a lawsuit or family law litigation.
- MediationMediation is a valuable tool for the litigants due to its ability to achieve fair and lasting agreements. Most individuals and families can successfully resolve divorce and other civil disputes using mediation. This means less time in court and a more effective final agreement in which the parties have collaborated in reaching. Mediation can be effective for family law issues, such as divorce, parenting plans, or asset distribution. Mediation is particularly useful in civil disputes, such as easement problems, disputes over contracts, or employer/employee issues.
Mediation is a non-adversarial, cooperative method intended to clear the way for open and helpful communication between the parties. Mediation is particularly helpful where the parties will be involved in an ongoing relationship after the dispute is resolved (e.g., families, business associates, landlords and tenants, etc.). The mediator makes sure that all parties have an equal chance to be heard and to express emotion and frustrations that may be interfering with settling the matter. The mediator helps to identify the issues and explore possible solutions that are acceptable to both sides. Anything that is discussed in the course of the mediation is completely confidential. Particularly where the parties engage in mediation before filing for divorce or a lawsuit, no other attorneys are involved. Mediation is the least formal of the alternative dispute resolution paths, and typically keeps costs at a minimum.
An attorney in the role of a mediator serves as an impartial third party to help people in conflict negotiate and resolve their disputes. The goal is to create a fair and durable agreement reflecting the needs and interests of all parties. Mediation of a dispute can easily be accomplished before the parties ever file a lawsuit or divorce. A mediator does not give opinions on how the case should be resolved, or advocate for either party.
Our office can prepare all the documents necessary to present to the Court a completely resolved dispute, oftentimes without the need for the parties to appear in Court.
- Settlement ConferenceA settlement conference consists of each party presenting to a neutral attorney, the Settlement Master, their legal position and factual argument in support of their case. The Settlement Master will consider the written and oral presentation by each side; then will meet privately with each party and attorney and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions in the case. Each of the parties hears its case compared and contrasted with the other party’s case. The parties also hear an objective third party’s opinion of their case’s strengths and weaknesses, providing a “reality check.” This procedure often leads to settlement or more productive negotiations.
A settlement conference is different from mediation, as mediation can easily take place before a lawsuit or divorce is filed. Settlement conferences are more typically used after the lawsuit is fully developed and the parties have completed most pre-trial steps. A settlement conference is one of the last opportunities for the parties to settle their dispute before going to trial.
If the parties reach an agreement to settle the dispute, the Settlement Master will draft a document for each party to sign. This Settlement Agreement addresses all the issues the parties have been able to agree upon. The settlement is binding on the parties, that is, each party must act in conformance with the Settlement Agreement. Typically, the Settlement Agreement is filed with the Court and the parties’ attorneys prepare any necessary documents to finalize the agreement and dismiss the lawsuit.
Locally, the District Court requires litigants to participate in a settlement conference before going to trial, with the goal of helping the parties achieve a resolution in which they have participated and is a mutually satisfactory result. When a party appeals to the Montana Supreme Court from the District Court, the Supreme Court mandates appellate mediation before it will consider the merits of the appeal. Again, the goal of appellate mediation is to aid the parties in reaching a resolution of the case before additional time and resources are expended.