In the U.S. today, an estimated 50% of marriages end in divorce-and many of those divorces involve legal conflicts over child custody, support and property settlements. Needless to say, a number of couples find it difficult to arrive at mutually agreeable settlements because of the tension, anger and distrust that tend to develop during the breakup of a marriage.
In recent years, couples increasingly have turned to mediation for settling their divorce claims. More than half the states in the U.S. have mediation programs available in their courts-and some courts mandate mediation, particularly for child-custody issues-in an effort to provide a less adversarial forum for settling breakups.
From a utilitarian perspective, marriage is a legal contract. Complications arise when one or both parties want to break the contract. And while break-ups can be amicable, they are often hostile and a courtroom is hardly designed to settle such personal, emotionally-charged battles. Nor is the public setting of a courtroom ideal for the privacy required in divorce battles-particularly when children are involved.
"There is almost nothing to lose and everything to gain in mediation," says Jim Melamed, executive director of the Academy of Family Mediators, the only national organization committed exclusively to family mediation. "Rather than turning control over to a judge, the couples retain decision-making power over their own settlement."