Costs of a family law case can quickly add up, particularly if you are unwilling to work toward a resolution with the Opposing Side. One way to help keep your case affordable is to use mediation to its fullest potential. In Colorado, parties are required to participate in mediation for any contested issue in family law. What this means is that before the court will hear your issue, you and the Opposing Side must make a good faith attempt to resolve the issue through mediation. If you are able to reach a full or partial settlement, this will ultimately save you money by avoiding the preparation for, and attendance of, a contested hearing.
Mediation is a procedure through which you and the opposing party will attempt to negotiate a settlement with the help of a neutral third party. In Colorado, there are two options for mediation: first, through the Office of Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) with assigned mediators; second, through a private mediator of your choosing. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this will largely determine the appropriate choice. Private mediators tend to be more expensive for their services, but may be chosen based upon their experience and expertise. Mediators through ODR are assigned to your case but tend to have a lower hourly rate. Deciding which mediator option is best for you is an important step in helping to keep the costs of your case low.
As mediation is a requirement in Colorado, it is best to have an understanding of the issues in your case, your goals for mediation, and the likelihood of settlement. Should you simply be participating in mediation to satisfy a court requirement, ODR may be the best for you. If you believe mediation is likely to result in a settlement, going with an experienced private mediator (even though it may be more costly now), will ultimately save you money down the road compared to the cost of proceeding to a contested hearing.
The best way to make the most of mediation is to enter into mediation with an open mind and a goal of settlement. Parties often spend substantial time and money arguing over issues that ultimately don’t matter. When picking your battles, as difficult as it may be, you must try and remove emotion from the process. There are certainly battles worth fighting; however, cost/benefit analysis is important. For example, if you and the Opposing Side are fighting over furniture, there is a point where you will have spent more money fighting than it would cost to purchase a whole new set.
Regardless of whether you use the services of a private mediator with specialized knowledge or an appointed mediation with ODR, proper use of your attorney will be crucial to the success of mediation and therefore the ultimate cost of your case. Your attorney will help you make the difficult cost/benefit analysis decisions, provide you with information about the law, provide insight as to the likely result at trial, determine the reasonableness of your position, and advocate for your needs. So if you have an attorney, don’t make the mistake of trying to settle at mediation alone. While there are concerns about the cost of your attorney attending mediation, more often than not, using the services of your attorney at mediation can make the difference between reaching a settlement or having to proceed to a contested hearing.
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