Family Law Mediation
Devoted to Negotiating settlements for all areas of family law, including:
- Prenuptial, postnuptial, cohabitation and domestic partnership agreements
- Marital separation and dissolution
- Termination of domestic partnerships
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Division of assets and debts
Mediation is an alternative form of dispute resolution whereby parties attempt to resolve their differences, with the assistance of a neutral educator/facilitator, without going to court, allowing people to privately settle disputes they are unable to resolve on their own. The mediator is an active participant in the discussions and attempts to structure a resolution with both parties. Mediation is normally the most appropriate method to resolve divorce, child custody, paternity and other types of delicate family law matters, including the negotiation of prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements. The benefits of mediation include greater privacy, a less adversarial process and, typically, much lower costs and the constant availability of a neutral and supportive guide. Typically, the goal for separating couples in mediation is the negotiation of a marital settlement agreement, commonly referred to as an "MSA". This is an agreement entered into by couples upon divorce and contains provisions resolving the divorcing couple’s property issues, parenting schedules, support amounts and any other topic affecting the couples’ rights after the marriage. As a general rule, mediation communications are strictly confidential, cannot be obtained by discovery and cannot be admitted as evidence in court. Because mediation confidentiality facilitates open and candid discussions, mediation typically increases the likelihood of successful settlement negotiations for a broad array of litigants, often helping to resolve even the most contentious cases by agreement. David Sutton’s 25 years of experience allows him to settle approximately 95% of the cases that he mediates. Mediators are required to be neutral. They cannot favor one party over another as the mediator always works for both parties.
Benefits of Mediation
1) Settlements can be negotiated more quickly, privately and inexpensively.
2) Studies demonstrate that parties are generally more satisfied with solutions that have been mutually agreed upon, as opposed to solutions that are imposed by a third party decision-maker, such as a judge. Furthermore, they indicate that parties who have reached their own agreement in mediation are also generally more likely to follow through and comply with its terms than those whose resolution has been imposed by a third party decision-maker.
3) Mediated settlements are able to address both legal and extra-legal issues, such as co-parenting and more nuanced and complex. Mediated agreements often cover procedural and psychological issues that are not necessarily susceptible to legal determination. Mediated settlements can be hand-tailored to the particular needs and circumstances of each family.
4) Parties who negotiate their own settlements in a mediation process, generally, have more control over the outcome of their dispute and are less subject to the arbitrariness a litigated court process.
5) Many disputes occur in the context of relationships that will continue over future years. A mediated settlement that addresses all parties' interests can often preserve a working relationship in ways that would not be possible in a win/lose decision-making procedure. Mediation can also make the termination of a relationship more amicable.
6) Workable and Implementable Decisions
Parties who mediate their differences are able to attend to the fine details of implementation. mediated agreements can include specially tailored procedures for how the decisions will be carried out. This fact often enhances the likelihood that parties will actually comply with the terms of the settlement.
7) Agreements that are Better than Simple Compromises or Win/Lose Outcomes
8) Decisions that Hold Up Over Time
Mediated settlements tend to hold up over time, and if a later dispute results, the parties are more likely to utilize a cooperative forum of problem-solving to resolve their differences than to pursue an adversarial approach.
Prenuptial, Postnuptial and Cohabitation Agreements
Divorce can be destructive, expensive and unpredictable. With divorce rates exceeding 50 percent for first-time marriages and 60 percent for second marriages, many people contemplating marriage often choose to enter into an agreement to determine, in advance, their respective rights and responsibilities in the event that the relationship ends. These agreements are called premarital agreements, also known as prenuptial agreements. In California, the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (Family Code Sections 1610-1617) governs what kinds of things you can include in your agreement. Premarital agreements allow individuals to take control over their own economic futures rather than letting the default rules control or leaving their financial futures up to an unpredictable court system. Premarital agreements are designed to maximize a couple's ability to negotiate and determine in advance what the financial consequences of their marriage will be, both during the marriage and in the event of death or divorce.
Marital agreements, also known as “post-nuptial agreements”, can be utilized by married spouses and partners for the purposes of defining their financial rights and relationship once the marriage or partnership has already commenced. Like the contents of a prenuptial agreement, the terms vary widely but commonly includes provisions for the division of property and spousal support in the event of divorce, death of one of the spouses, or breakup of the marriage and/or relationship. Not every eventuality can be anticipated before marriage, and it sometimes happens that spouses wish to enter into a financial agreement after marriage, also known as a postnuptial agreement. Postnuptial agreements have special requirements, and generally are harder to defend than premarital agreements because married persons have special fiduciary duties to each other.
The reason to mediate the negotiation of premarital and post-marital agreements is that it allows a neutral professional to guide the discussions and the drafting process and, therefore, reduces the risk that one party’s attorney, leading the discussions, will create a more adversarial environment that can lead to the breakdown of the parties’ relationship or otherwise create ill will and resentment.
It is important that premarital agreements be negotiated, finalized and signed as far in advance as possible before the wedding so as to allow for a calm, thoughtful and thorough discussion and negotiation.
Domestic Partnerships, Civil Unions, Same-Sex Marriages, and Other Relationships
Over the last many years, a variety of legal relationships other than opposite-sex marriages have been created in the United States, including relationships called “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.”
In the last decade, legal marriage has also become available to same-sex couples in many states, including California.. Rather recently, the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.
With all of the evolution and change in this area, there has been much confusion and misinformation regarding the implications of these newly created legal relationships. The law is a moving target in this area, and the overlap and interaction of the various possible legal relationship statuses and the facts of any particular relationship are likely to create a multitude of legal issues and questions for those involved in such relationships or contemplating entering into such relationships. Therefore, individuals considering entering into a quasi-marital relationship often times prepare pre- partnership agreements, post-partnership agreements, and other relationship agreements in order to define a couple’s expected rights and responsibilities, and to help avoid potential disputes and unnecessary legal costs