Family law cases—which include issues like separation, divorce, child custody and visitation, and asset division —can be complicated to say the least. Not only are the parties likely dealing with immense emotional strain, but the logistics of separating a family can quickly become contentious.

For many reasons, South Carolina requires mandatory mediation prior to scheduling a final hearing in family law cases. Mediation alleviates burdens on the court system by offering a more amicable means for couples to come to an agreement before they even venture into a courtroom. It can also be a cost and time effective solution.

When you start browsing through attorney names in search of a suitable family law lawyer in Charleston, you may discover that some law firms offer both mediation and arbitration services. What is the difference between mediation and arbitration, and which service might be right for you?

What is Mediation?

Both mediation and arbitration are forms of alternative dispute resolution (as opposed to litigation), but they differ in significant ways. Mediation involves a mediator, or a neutral third party, who meets with a couple to try to help them to resolve disputes and come to a mutual agreement that can be presented to a judge during a final hearing.

The mediator must remain impartial at all times. They attempt to move the dispute resolution process forward, with the hopes of arriving at an equitable settlement.

The important thing to know about mediation is that it works best if both parties are invested in the process. Mediation is not a binding process, and a mediator cannot force the parties involved to agree. A mediator simply lends his/her legal expertise and facilitates negotiations. The goal is to help both parties come to mutual agreement on their own.

What Does an Arbitrator Do?

Litigation can be a lengthy and expensive process. Even if a couple cannot reach an agreement on their own, they may hesitate to take their case to a courtroom setting. This is where an arbitrator can help.

Arbitration is a process that cuts out litigation completely. It may be binding or non-binding arbitration. A certified arbitrator takes the place of a judge, acting as a neutral third party. Both sides have the opportunity to present their case after which the arbitrator will render a decision.

The decision will go to a judge for ratification, after which it will become a court order. This is typically a binding form of dispute resolution, but both parties must agree to arbitration and agree to the arbitrator, and the details of the arbitration process upfront. After that, they will be bound by the arbitrator’s decision.

Mediation vs. Arbitration:  Which is Right for You?

Mediation is a good first step to resolving disputes and it is mandatory in South Carolina because it works.  If you and your partner simply cannot come to an agreement, arbitration may provide you the opportunity to avoid the high costs of a lengthy court battle.

Anne Frances Bleecker is a highly qualified family law attorney, but she is also a knowledgeable, experienced, and highly recommended mediator and certified arbitrator. To learn more about the mediation and arbitration services offered by Bleecker Family Law, contact us today at 843-571-2725 or visit us online to schedule a consultation.