As a family law mediator in Arizona, I have helped families addressing addiction or recovery move more easily through a legal matter with grace and respect.
Family law mediation is most often used as a positive alternative to litigation. It is a process in which both parties sit down with a neutral third person skilled in conflict resolution, and resolve their disputes themselves. Mediators help create an environment that fosters listening, compromise and resolution. If necessary, they also help the parties involved create binding documents.
Participants almost always reach a peaceful resolution – mediation has an over 90 percent success rate. Those involved in this process are able to move forward with their lives and relationships in a more positive fashion. Such negotiations are confidential, which is an attractive feature for people addressing private issues such as addiction. Participants are encouraged to formulate creative solutions, and because the participants decide the outcome, there is little risk of a bad result.
By contrast, litigation is often a stressful, time-consuming and expensive manner of addressing legal issues. It is also a public process that often creates more conflict and animosity for the parties. Conflict and animosity are difficult for everyone, but especially for children caught in the middle or individuals addressing addiction issues. It is not unusual for someone’s past or ongoing addiction to be used against them in court, especially when children are involved. At the end of a case, the parties’ fates are in the hands of a judge, who has limited options on how to resolve issues and who may create orders that are damaging to one or all of those involved.
Almost any type of family issue can be mediated, including divorce, legal separation, paternity actions and post-decree matters. Different states offer more or fewer remedies. The following is a list of potential ways mediation can be used to address addiction issues:
- In a mediated divorce, legal separation or paternity action, parents can create parenting plans which address addiction concerns and the potential impact on children. Some plans may forbid alcohol use partially or completely before and during access periods with the child. Parents may also devise other safeguards, such as random drug testing and mandatory counseling. Such provisions help a parent in recovery demonstrate trustworthiness while allowing the other parent to feel some sense of security that the children will not suffer because of an addiction issue.
- After a divorce or similar action is completed, parents can return to mediation to address a request for increased time with a child. Similarly, if a parent is going through a difficult time, the participants can temporarily modify orders to address the situation.
- Couples can become legally separated until one party achieves a certain level of sobriety. By legally separating, the parties can divide their assets and debts, then make arrangements for support issues and parenting time during this transition period.
- Parties can also use a legal separation mediation to help prevent one party from being legally responsible for the other party’s future debts. This type of action is especially useful when the addiction involves gambling, or otherwise results in financial waste or heightened financial liability. People may address concerns that their partner could drive under the influence or face other criminal charges that can have financial repercussions.
- Couples can create agreements that allow them to stay married. They can agree to stay in treatment or forego illicit drugs as part of a mediated agreement. Contracts between married people (sometimes called post-nuptial agreements) are often considered binding, as long as they do not violate public policy.
- People can also use mediation to reconcile with partners or other family members. This provides a forum to communicate in a positive manner and to resolve ongoing conflicts or resentments. These types of mediations generally do not result in a binding agreement, unlike those involving legal actions. Instead, in a facilitated conversation to help make it as productive and comfortable as possible, those taking part in the process air their concerns, feel heard and understood, then create a road map for moving forward in relationships.
If one party is the victim of domestic violence, mediation may not be appropriate. However, if the individual is able to self-advocate, steps can be taken to proceed while protecting the victim. For example, the two parties can remain in different rooms or buildings utilizing video or telephone conferencing. In all such situations, individuals can choose to be represented by an attorney.
I have chosen this profession because I am able to help people who may otherwise face traumatic legal action or who may not have the strength or resources to address their legal and other needs. I see parents who are able to remain friendly after a divorce and children who are spared the aftermath of a nasty legal action. In addition, I have the privilege of helping couples take the first steps toward putting their lives back together in a positive and loving manner.
NOTE: This is a general interest article only and is not intended as legal advice. See a legal professional before making legal decisions.
Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona. She may be reached at 480.998.1500, firstname.lastname@example.org or Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC, 8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7, Scottsdale, Arizona 85260. Her website is: http://azmediator.com.