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How Mediation Works, How Mediation Affects The Settlement Process, How Mediation Affects Parents And Children

When a marriage is dissolving, the spouses must reach agreement on property division, spousal support, child custody, and parental visitation. With the advent of "no-fault" divorce laws, the process of reaching a settlement between the divorcing spouses has become increasingly private. The high costs associated with the more public and formal legal processes has led many divorcing spouses to seek a low-cost alternative: divorce mediation. Much has been written about the reasons for this trend toward the "privatization" of divorce, including the increase in no-fault divorce and the elimination of the "tender years" presumption, which used to influence judges to award child custody to the mother. When divorce is no longer contingent on proving fault, and when the courts have no strong guidelines for making custody determinations, there are few compelling reasons to rely on legal intervention to dissolve a marriage.

Another influence on the growth of private approaches to determining divorce agreements has been the research on the effects of divorce on children's development. Divorce often results in the loss of contact with the noncustodial parent, less effective parenting, and reduced financial resources. These negative consequences have been linked to more behavior and peer problems in children. Studies have shown that cooperation between the ex-spouses on parenting issues, despite their continued personal conflict, can mitigate the negative effects of the divorce on children's development.

For these reasons, divorce mediation has emerged in recent years as a more suitable alternative to court-ordered approaches. Mediation holds the promise of being cheaper, takes less time to reach settlement, and can effectively prevent many custody disputes from going to court. By allowing the exspouses to reach agreement on child custody privately, the amount of conflict between the parents might diminish, the settlement might be fairer for both parties, and contact between the child and each parent can be maintained. These improvements in the period immediately following the divorce should then attenuate any short-term negative effects on the children and improve their adjustment. This article examines the evidence for the benefits of mediation and its effects on parent and child adjustment.

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 5