In October of 1995 the North Carolina Legislature enacted N.C. General Statute 7A-38.2 which established the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commision.
Then purpose of this statute is to establish training standards and to certify and to regulate private mediators who will attempt to bring parties to a lawsuit to an agreement prior to the lawsuit being heard in a court of law.
The originators of this concept realized that many disputes are settled “on the courthouse steps” and reasoned that it would help relieve the courts overcrowding if this process was formalized.
It was discovered that the parties to disputes benefit when they have the opportunity to control the outcome of a dispute, rather than the costly experience of a courtroom trial where the outcome is virtually out of control of the parties, but will be decided by a Judge or a Jury. Further, any case that is settled prior to court benefits all parties and taxpayers by helping relieve the case loads now experienced by our courts.
Orginally, this program targeted Superior and District court actions, but shortly after the commission’s creation, the program was extended to include required mediation in Worker’s Compensation cases, Clerk of Court cases and farm disputes.
In 1997, the North Carolina General Assembly established a pilot program for The Family Financial Settlement Program in include mediated settlement options concerning Equitable Distribution, Child Custody, Alimony, Child Support and other divorce issues.
After the pilot programs establishment and successful operation, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted N.C. General Stature 7A-38.4 which authorized statewide expansion of the Family Financial Settlement Program on October 1, 2001.
Since the establishment of these programs, parties to divorce and family matter issues are learning that all cases, by these laws, must be mediated prior to getting into a courtroom. Consequently, many parties realize that they will have to participate in mediation at some point so they prefer to hire a mediator early in the process. This is frequently preferable as opposed to going the conventional route of getting a mediator involved much later after there has been hard feelings generated by the normal route of each party getting a lawyer and starting a fight.
Mediated settlement conferences usually cost from $3000.00 to $5000.00 (many are much less) as compared to extensive legal battles which can easily cost ten times as much. This notwithstanding it should be understood that mediation is no substitute for qualified legal counsel and we do recommend that parties to Marital and other disputes consult with a lawyer in attempting to achieve resolution of disputes.
When a mediated settlement conference is completed, the mediator creates a Memorandum of Agreement. This Memorandum can include resolution of financial matters including property distribution, alimony or child support. It can also address child custody issues as well, but it is recommended that this Memorandum of Agreement be reviewed by a lawyer licensed in North Carolina for compliance with North Carolina laws and memorialization of the agreement for submission to the appropriate court where applicable.
It should be noted that mediators should not and cannot give legal advice, even if the mediator is a lawyer. Legal advice should be provided by a lawyer other than the mediator.
In summary, mediation is a good, low cost and rapid way to settle divorce and family matter issues. Mediators are trained to be conciliatory and to keep bitter disputes at a minimum relieving much stress that is normally associated with marital disputes. While this is very beneficial for the husband and wife, it is especially beneficial where children are involved.