What You Need to Know about Alternative Dispute Resolution in Mississippi
The decision has been made. You are navigating the rough waters of a Mississippi divorce, but even the thought of darkening the terrifyingly unpredictable doors of a courtroom makes you sick. Maybe you or your spouse is itching for a fight, but you lack the time, money, or nerve to put your children through a hotly contested trial. Regardless, it is unlikely you’ll ever see the parking lot of the courthouse, let alone the inside of a courtroom. Research and experience shows approximately 95% of divorce actions settle out of Court. How, you may ask? Through Alternative Dispute Resolution, otherwise known as ADR.
In short, ADR is any mechanism for resolving a legal action outside of a courtroom. For the purposes of a Mississippi divorce, or any other family law crisis, this is typically achieved in one of the following four ways:
The DIY Divorce
You cannot turn on a television these days without being subjected to a “Do it Yourself" (DIY) show. Often times, the morbid draw of these programs is watching people, who have bitten off more than they can chew, struggle through completing a task they were ill-equipped to take on in the first place. Moral of the story? Don’t do it!
It is legal for you to accomplish a divorce in Mississippi without an attorney. However, just because something is legal doesn’t make it a good idea. Regardless of the circumstances, a Mississippi divorce is a complex legal proceeding, which can have catastrophic effects if left in untrained hands. Get help! Hire a professional.
Informal Settlement Negotiations
One or both sides have lawyered up. Your facts fleshed out and financial accounts and debts identified. Whether you’re tired of holding your sword, or you’ve yet to even reach for it, it is time to settle and move on. Typically the first attempts at settlement are through informal settlement negotiations.
Informal settlement negotiations are a form of ADR where you negotiate with the opposition from a distance. One side makes an offer of settlement to the other, typically via email or telephone. The offer is often considered, and ultimately accepted, rejected, or countered. Each side then continues to volley offers back and forth until either a deal or an impasse is reached. This process usually takes place over the course of days, or even weeks. While the drawn out timing of this method often becomes frustrating, informal settlement negotiations can be effective at narrowing the issues and keeping costs low. In the event a deal is reached, you will either sign the documents independently or a meeting will be scheduled where you and your spouse will execute the contract at the same time.
You’ve tried batting offers at one another for weeks, and the gap between your positions doesn’t seem to be shrinking. Maybe the attorney on the other side seems to never be available or your spouse keeps moving the ball. Regardless of the reason, it is time to get everyone in the same building.
A settlement conference is a method of ADR where you and your attorney set a formal conference with your spouse and their attorney to hammer out a deal. This meeting of the minds typically takes place at the office of one of the attorneys. You and your spouse will each set up shop in separate conference rooms, and your attorneys will go back and forth trading offers and negotiating terms. The goal is for everyone to keep plugging away until a deal is reached and signed. Settlement conferences typically take all day, and sometimes push into the late hours of the night. It will be exhausting, but walking away with a signed and sealed deal is usually well worth it.
You like the idea of a settlement conference, but you’re convinced there is no way a deal can be reached without an extra push. Maybe your spouse is just too stubborn, or their lawyer too difficult. Perhaps there are so many issues to be agreed upon that the respective sides alone cannot get it done. Regardless of the reason, your case has become a runaway train barreling towards a courtroom. Mediation may be the emergency brake you need to avoid disaster.
In the world of Mississippi divorce, mediation is the most formal avenue of ADR. Like a settlement conference on steroids, you and your attorney will come together with the opposition to reach a deal, only with the added assistance of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who has been employed by you and your spouse to aide in bridging the gap between your positions. Mediators, who are often retired judges or attorneys with extensive family law experience, are not there to choose sides or assign blame. In fact, they have no real power at all. The mediator exists solely to help you facilitate a deal.
After opening remarks by the mediator, where you’ll be informed of the procedure to follow, you and your spouse will adjourn to separate rooms with your respective attorneys. From there, you will spend the day trading offers with the opposition with the assistance of the mediator and your attorney. He will tactfully make suggestions and inform you of his vast knowledge of the pertinent law in Mississippi as it relates to your case. Typically, everyone makes a commitment to stay the course until either a deal is signed or the mediator declares the parties have reached an impasse. While mediation can be expensive and intensely draining, it often provides you with the best chance at resolving your domestic dispute outside of a courtroom. In fact, over 80% of cases that go to mediation settle.
Here is a useful guide for Preparing for Family Mediation.
Arbitration is essentially where the parties employ their own judge who will make the decision after a mediation or through an informal trial. While this is not very common in Mississippi, it may be an option if there are significant financial considerations and/or it may take a long time to actually get to court.
Reaching a Deal
While all Mississippi divorces are unique in some way or another, one almost universal truth is making a good faith attempt to settle your case outside of a courtroom is worth your time and money. Any honest lawyer or judge will tell you so. Nobody knows what is best for you and your family better than you do. Chances are, one or more of the ADR vehicles explained above will pave the way to the negotiated settlement that is best for your family. However, in the unlikely event all of these methods fail, you will be able to confidently walk into court with your head held high and armed with the knowledge you tried every alternative to resolve your case amicably.
We Can Help You
Here is the way this works, if you would like to talk about how ADR can be used in your family dispute, call our office (601-898-8655) or confidentially submit a basic intake form so our staff can complete a standard conflict check. That’s when we make sure nothing on this end will stand in the way of us being helpful. Then, we will schedule a time for you to talk to one or more of our attorneys to go over your situation.