The State of Georgia is quickly becoming one of the most mediation-friendly states in the U.S. Currently, there are 96 counties in Georgia that utilize some type of publicly sponsored Alternative Dispute Resolution program. The objectives of these programs include such subjects as ‘Juvenile Court,’ ‘Landlord – Tenant Negotiations,’ ‘Domestic Mediation,’ etc. In fact, many Georgia counties now require a "good faith" effort by divorcing couples to come to an agreement through the process of mediation. This does not mean that the couples are forced to agree. They are simply asked to attempt to find their own solution before the case is presented to a judge.
When looking at the wide variety of contexts where mediation is being utilized, Divorce Mediation stands out as one of the fastest growing fields. The courts have decided to place an emphasis on providing couples the opportunity to craft their own agreement, rather than asking judges to deduce acceptable terms. With mediation, sensitive and complex issues can be solved by the parties who are intimately affected by the decisions that will be reached. This can be especially helpful with subjects such as child support, visitation schedules, personal property dispersal, and alimony. Conventional wisdom holds that individuals who were part of crafting their own agreement are more likely to follow its conditions.
In Georgia, there are stringent educational requirements to become registered as a mediator with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution. To be registered as a Domestic Mediator, applicants must have the following: a B.A. or B.S., prior General/Civil Mediation training, the successful completion of an approved Domestic Mediation training program, and practical experience observing and co-mediating actual disputes. Furthermore, it has also become highly recommended that divorce mediators participate in an in-depth Domestic Violence educational workshop.
There are two avenues to mediation in Georgia. The first, ‘Private Mediation,’ involves the hiring of a mediator before any conflict has been filed with the courts. Individuals with or without legal representation will often try to find agreement through the use of a mediator before the situation progresses into litigation. Any agreement created during this process becomes legally binding with the parties’ signatures. If the agreement is broken, the document can be utilized as evidence of a broken contract in civil court.
The second avenue in Georgia is called ‘Court-Referred Mediation.’ This process is implemented after the conflict has entered the court system. Alternative Dispute Resolution Offices have been established in many counties throughout Georgia to help parties resolve their issues before the case is heard. Depending on the situation, parties may or may not have legal representation. As with ‘Private Mediation,’ agreements reached become legally binding and case dismissals are often contingent upon the satisfaction of the terms of the contract.
As the civil court system continues to be over-taxed by the number of cases that are filed each year, the option of mediation has become increasingly popular. This has been particularly evident in the realm of divorce. Comparatively speaking, the limited time and costs associated with using a mediator are far more attractive than the financial burdens and loss of decision-making linked to going to trial.