Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gwinnett Mediation Process – What is it? How do we get there?

Tonight'g blog post is authored by Stephanie Steele, Associate and Supervising Attorney for Gwinnett County.  Click here to
learn more about Stephanie.

You may have heard the phrase “Alternative Dispute Resolution” or “ADR”.  This simply refers to a variety of methods used to resolve legal cases without a Judge hearing and deciding the case.

As the Gwinnett Superior Court ADR’s website aptly explains, “There are three primary processes [of alternative dispute resolution] available.  Mediation, the most requested method of ADR in Gwinnett County, is a process in which a neutral third party facilitates settlement discussions between parties in conflict.  Case evaluation is a process in which an experienced attorney gives advice on the strengths and weaknesses of each party's position and may make an assessment as to how a judge or jury might react in the case.  Arbitration is more similar to a trial.  The arbitrator issues a decision on the case following an abbreviated hearing under informal rules of evidence.”

In family law, we use mediation almost exclusively as an alternative way of resolving cases.  In some Metro-Atlanta counties, you are required to attend mediation before the court will allow you to schedule a hearing.  In other counties, it is an optional process.  In still other counties, such as Gwinnett, the Judge decides whether domestic cases assigned to him/her must go to mediation prior to a hearing.

Once you know your case will go to mediation, the next step is to select a mediator.  Every Metro-Atlanta county has a list of approved domestic mediators.  These mediators are often, but not always, attorneys with at least 5 years practice in domestic cases.  They are all trained extensively in conflict resolution.  Don’t be fooled, though, as with most professionals, not all mediators are created equal!

In selecting a mediator, rely on your attorney’s advice.  She or he knows you, your case, the opposing attorney, possibly the opposing party and the mediator.  When choosing a mediator, it is important to keep in mind the personalities and proclivities of each person who will be involved.

For example, if you are a father seeking primary custody of your children, you probably would not want to use a mediator who advocates mothers obtaining primary custody.  Another example would be if you are a shy person, it may be difficult to work with a mediator who has a very strong personality.  Again, though, it depends on the individuals involved.

If the parties cannot agree on a mediator, the Judge will assign one.

When you arrive for mediation, check in with the friendly folks in the ADR office and let them know you’re there.  They will wait for both attorneys, both parties and the mediator to arrive and then lead everyone to a private room for the mediation.

Later this week, I’ll post another blog explaining what exactly goes on behind the closed doors of mediation.

For more information on Gwinnett County’s ADR processes, visit their website at Gwinnet County ADR

Here are a few other helpful ADR websites: 
Cobb County ADR
Fulton County ADR
DeKalb County ADR

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