When I explain mediation as a choice for moving forward in domestic cases, I often observe a client’s sigh of relief and overall happiness of another option besides court.

Often clients enter my office like they are entering a battle zone—full of fear and anxiety. They have the belief that if they are going to get divorced, it will be a process that involves court and nothing short of warfare like they see on TV and in the movies (think “War of the Roses”). As a mediator, litigator, and a collaborative attorney practicing for over two decades, I have seen a lot and can pull from my experience in helping clients navigate the family law road. Even so, I often tell my clients, “If you can mediate, do it.”

The test for mediation is that the parties have a genuine sense of honesty, the ability to compromise and have some empathy towards their spouse. Also, the parties are not fearful, intimidated or manipulated by the other party. Even if there does exist some concerns, then mediation can still be a viable option if the parties bring attorneys to the mediation to help the client stay focused and act as a sounding board for their client’s legal rights.

As a mediator, I find it helpful that the clients come prepared to the mediation with a sense of their goals and objectives. We then create an agenda or roadmap for moving forward productively by using the goals to map out our “to do” list. It is also good for everyone to have a sense of why they are at mediation. Often people will ask me how long the mediation process will take to complete. The best answer is that it depends. Not to be difficult, but it does depend on how well the parties communicate, how dedicated they are at getting their homework completed, and whether the parties are reasonable and able to compromise.

What is homework? It is the laundry list of items needed to get issues resolved. It often consists of items like: interviewing daycare providers, home appraisals, pulling 3 years of tax returns, talking to accountants, going to the local college to learn about degrees and job opportunities, etc. It is best to decide what needs to be done and how to do it in the mediation so that one person doesn’t feel like the other person is taking charge, making unilateral decisions or in short, not working with the other party.

I often schedule several mediation dates at the first mediation so that we have deadlines of when the homework will be completed and to keep the process moving. So, in answer of “how long to finish?”-- I have finished a mediation case in one 2 hour session and multiple sessions over the course of an entire year! The time line truly depends on the issues and the parties—so it depends is not an uncommon answer.

Once the parties resolve the issues through mediation, the next step is to have an Agreement drafted that memorializes the settlement. This can be completed by the mediator or by one or both of the parties’ attorneys. This agreement is a binding contract that the parties will enter into and will be the finished product of their labors in mediation. The agreement can be called many different things depending on the issues that were resolved. The most important part of the Agreement is that the issues are resolved and the parties might never even need to enter the Courthouse! Not bad for making the choice to mediate and avoid the court process. The process of mediation allows the parties to work together, make choices in the best interest of their family, and avoid protracted and costly litigation.

Jolie Gelman Weinberg is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, past president of the Maryland Women’s Bar Association, past member of the Maryland State Family Law Section Council, was recently nominated by Super Lawyers as one of the top 100 attorneys in Maryland and top 50 Women Lawyers in Maryland for 2014.