Alternative Dispute Resolution

 

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative Dispute Resolution, usually referred to as ADR, offers parties a way to resolve their differences without going to court. In Chatham County, parties are encouraged to, and in some cases required to, try a method of ADR known as mediation.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a process where a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps parties to resolve a conflict. Some benefits of mediation include:

  • Less formal than court.
  • Promotes communication and cooperation.
  • Benefits children by reducing conflict.
  • Private and confidential – avoids public disclosure of personal problems and the stress of a traditional courtroom battle.
  • May be completed in less time than litigation, saving you time and costly litigation expenses.
The mediator is not a judge and has no authority to make a decision or force the parties to settle their case. Whether you settle is entirely up to you and the other party. Mediation is an alternative to court in which YOU have control over the final outcome.

I’ve been ordered to go to mediation. What do I do?

Read the order carefully. It is a court order and you are required to obey it. The order outlines all of the steps that you need to take and what you need to bring to your mediation:

    (1) Pick a mediator. You can select The Mediation Center or a private mediator approved by the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution who practices in Chatham County. Here in Chatham County, we are fortunate to have a great number of well-qualified mediators with a range of skillsets, including former judges, attorneys, and laypersons with a wealth of experience in different industries. Some volunteer through The Mediation Center, while others offer their services as private mediators. You and the opposing party are encouraged to agree on a mediator; if you can’t agree, your case will be automatically assigned to The Mediation Center.

    (2) Schedule the mediation. You have ten days from the date of the court order to select a mediator and start the scheduling process with him/her. You must then contact The Mediation Center at (912) 354-6686 to let them know whom you have selected. In most cases, you have 45 days from the date of the order to complete the mediation; please keep this deadline in mind as you select a mediator and schedule the mediation.

    (3) Prepare for the mediation. The better prepared you are for the mediation, the more likely you are to succeed and settle your case. You can prepare for the mediation by thinking about your specific interests that you want to be addressed during the mediation. Outline the points that you would like to make to the opposing party and to the mediator. Gather all of the documents that are relevant to your position in the case (e.g., tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, business records, and documents related to property values and account balances). In domestic cases (e.g., divorce, legitimation, and modification), you must complete a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit before the mediation and bring it with you. (If you need help completing the Affidavit, you’re encouraged to seek the advice of a lawyer or to contact The Family Law Resource Center.

    (4) Participate in the mediation. While you aren’t required to settle at the mediation, you are required to attend and participate in good faith. Lawyers are not required to attend the mediation, but they are allowed and encouraged to do so. The mediation process involves only the parties and their attorneys. The presence of others (witnesses, new spouses, family members, etc.) may create ill feelings even before the mediation begins, so please think twice before asking people to accompany you to the mediation location. Children are not allowed in the mediation session and child care is not provided.

    (5) Reach an agreement at mediation or go to court. If the parties don’t reach an agreement at mediation, the case will proceed normally through the court process. Judges favor mediation but will not hold a failed mediation against either party. The content of the mediation is confidential and judges are not informed of the reasons for a failed mediation.

    If you have any questions about the order or the steps outlined above, contact the Chatham County ADR Office at (912) 652-7519 or ccmartinez@chathamcounty.org.

    How much does mediation cost?

    The Mediation Center is under contract with Chatham County to provide free mediation services for Magistrate, State and Probate court cases, and discounted mediation services for Superior Court cases (including domestic cases). The Mediation Center currently charges $250 per party for mediation of Superior Court cases (including domestic cases), regardless of the length of the mediation. Parties who believe that they qualify for a fee waiver or reduction should contact The Mediation Center. Court-approved private mediators charge market rates. For more information regarding court-approved private mediators, including their bios and rates, click here.

    How long does mediation take?

    Most mediations are completed within 2-4 hours, sometimes less. If the issues are complex, the mediation may take more time or require multiple sessions.

    Can I be exempted from mediation?

    Certain cases will be exempted from mediation at the request of one or both parties. For more information on exemption, please contact the Chatham County ADR Office at (912) 652-7519.

    I’d like my case to be mediated but have not received a mediation order. Can I participate in mediation?

    Please contact the Chatham County ADR Office at (912) 652-7519.


In Chatham County, parties may select either 
The Mediation Center or a private mediator registered with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution (GODR) in the appropriate discipline (General Civil/Domestic).  Here in Chatham County, we are fortunate to have a great number of well-qualified, GODR-registered mediators with a range of skillsets, including former judges, attorneys, and laypersons with a wealth of experience in different industries.  Some volunteer through The Mediation Center, while others offer their services as private mediators.  You and the opposing party are encouraged to agree on a mediator; if you can’t agree, your case will be automatically assigned to The Mediation Center. 

Reminder:  If your case has been ordered to mediation, you may use any mediator registered with the GODR in the appropriate discipline (General Civil/Domestic).  It is the parties’ responsibility to confirm that the mediator that they use is registered with the GODR in the appropriate discipline.  To check a mediator’s current registration status, please visit https://gcr.onegovcloud.com/public/directory/#!/

More information about some of the private mediators who offer services in Chatham County, including their bios and rates, may be found in the list below.  (Mediators, to be added to this list, please send your bio and rate information to ADR Director Casey Martinez at ccmartinez@chathamcounty.org.  Only GODR-registered mediators are eligible to appear on this list.)            

In order to get the most out of the mediation process and better utilize your time and money, you should be well prepared for the mediation session. Since the mediator's role is to remain neutral and impartial, he/she knows very little about your case prior to the session. The mediator comes to the session with basic information on the parties and an idea of what issues may be in dispute (i.e., custody, visitation, property division, etc.). The mediator relies upon the parties to supply the information necessary for an educated discussion of the issues. For example, if the parties want to decide what happens to the marital home, in order to discuss possible solutions, the mediator and parties must know its current value, what is owed on it, etc. The mediator cannot work without this information. If you do not have it, the mediator may stop the session and reschedule when the information is available. If the first session is canceled and rescheduled for this reason, the parties will still be responsible for the mediation fees.

The best way to prepare for mediation is to gather all the papers that are important to the dispute. In domestic actions (divorce, modifications, contempts, paternity), depending upon what issues are to be discussed, you should bring the following:

Issue Bring the following items:
   
Equitable Division of Property: SWORN FINANCIAL AFFIDAVITS OF BOTH PARTIES ARE REQUIRED.
Real Estate Description and location of the property. Something to show value of property (tax bill, appraisal, Realtor's statement). Statements showing original mortgage amount, as well as current balance, payment, and interest rate. Any information about second mortgages or home equity loans.
Personal Property Detailed list of all property to be divided and value of each item. (Include all household items)
Vehicles/Boats/etc. Description and current value of item. Include loan information or lease information.
Checking/Savings Accounts; Investments Description of the plan type and amount (i.e. pension plan, profit sharing plan, 401K plan, employee's stock ownership plan (ESOP), government plan, etc.). Bring a Summary Plan Description - available through Administrator.
Life Insurance Description of types, policy numbers and amounts of all policies.
Debts Statements of all debt including credit cards, store accounts, vehicle payments, personal debt and any other type debt.
   
Spousal Support: SWORN DOMESTIC RELATIONS FINANCIAL AFFIDAVITS OF BOTH PARTIES ARE REQUIRED.
Children's Issues:  
  • Child Support
    (INCLUDING MODIFICATIONS)
SWORN FINANCIAL AFFIDAVITS OF BOTH PARTIES ARE REQUIRED. Confirmation of all income - bring paycheck stubs, income tax return.
  • Child Custody/ Visitation
Bring preferences of the holiday schedule. Bring description of all health insurance including type of coverage, deductibles and amounts of co- payments.
   
Attorney's Fees: SWORN FINANCIAL AFFIDAVITS OF BOTH PARTIES ARE REQUIRED.

 

CHILDREN ARE NOT ALLOWED AT THE MEDIATION SESSION.
ALTERNATIVE ARRANGEMENTS MUST BE MADE FOR CHILDCARE

Most divorces and modifications cases involve issues, which require you bring a financial affidavit (see above). If you have not completed your financial affidavit, contact your attorney or this office prior to the mediation session to complete one. FAILURE TO BRING A FINANCIAL AFFIDAVIT COULD RESULT IN A NONCOMPLIANCE WITH THE ADR ORDER.

If your case involves a modification of a final decree, please bring a copy of the final decree, which has been filed with the Superior Court.

We cannot cover all of the possible issues, which may be discussed during the mediation session, nor can we list all the necessary documents, which may apply in your particular case. If you have questions about how to prepare for the mediation session, please feel free to contact the ADR office at above numbers and/or addresses.

If you have questions about ADR or mediation in Chatham County, please contact the Chatham County ADR Office at (912) 652-7519.

 
© Copyright 2018 - Chatham County Courts