***Note: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Family Mediators are continuing with mediation via video conferencing.***
Some cases are best resolved by the people (called "parties") themselves instead of by a judge. That’s why the judge in your case might ask you to take part in mediation. In mediation, you and your (former) spouse or partner can make decisions together about what is best for your children. The court will help pay the cost of a mediator in appropriate family and probate cases. By working with a mediator, you can protect your children from hurtful adult conflict.
With a mediator, you can discuss:
- Parentage, including parental rights and responsibilities
- Financial and property settlements
- Child support
- Spousal maintenance
- Modification of support or maintenance
If you earn up to $30,000 per year, the court will pay part of the mediator’s hourly fee. You will pay the other part. Your share of the fee depends on your household income.
To learn more about the program, please click on the following links:
Other pages in this section
Mediation is a process that helps people communicate and negotiate with each other. Mediators don’t favor either party. They rely on their training and they follow important ethical guidelines to help people resolve their differences.
How Mediators Help Parties Communicate
Mediators help by:
- Making sure both parties have time to speak and listen to each other
- Listening to what each person has to say
- Asking each person if the mediator correctly heard what the person said
Mediators often highlight certain words and ideas they hear after each party speaks. They listen for:
- Issues the person wants to discuss or resolve
- The person’s position on each issue (what the person wants to happen)
- The reasons the person’s position is what it is (mediators call these “underlying interests”)
- Offers and suggestions to settle issues
How Mediators Help Parties Negotiate
- Describe an issue or a proposal so that it’s easier for the other person to think about it
- Make sure that people focus on meeting their underlying interests instead of their positions
- Develop options that benefit both parties
- Work out specific solutions rather than vague ones
- Write an agreement that includes the solutions both parties want and agree to
Mediators’ Ethical Obligations
Mediators follow standards of practice (professional ethics). The standards are available here.
- Won’t share what you say except in limited circumstances (your mediator will discuss this with you)
- Will respect your decisions about whether to attend mediation
- Will respect your decision whether to accept or reject proposed solutions
- Will tell you if they have a relationship or other connection to you or your (former) spouse or partner
- Won’t take sides or tell you who is right or wrong
Some mediation cases start when a judge suggests that the parties meet with a mediator. Many judges order parties to meet with a mediator. Other cases start when a party or a lawyer asks the judge to send the case to mediation. And some cases start when someone contacts the mediator without first going to court.
In Vermont, the court doesn’t assign a mediator. Instead, you pick a mediator who is right for you. You or your (former) spouse or partner may contact one of the mediators on the program’s list of mediators. You might find it helpful to ask a lawyer or friend to recommend a mediator.
The mediator talks with each party separately over the phone. The mediator will explain what will happen and answer your questions. The mediator will also ask you some questions to see if mediation is right for your case. The mediator will ask how much you earn to find out if the court can help pay for your mediation. If mediation is right for your case, the mediator will schedule the first session at a time that works for everyone.
Mediation sessions are typically about two hours long.
People usually need more than one session to reach an agreement. The number of sessions usually depends on how quickly both parties can shift from talking about the past to talking about the future. It also depends on how many issues the parties want to discuss and how complicated those issues are.
Most mediators charge each party an hourly fee.
The court might help pay the cost for a mediator to work with you for up to 10 hours. If you qualify for that help, the mediator will charge you a reduced hourly fee.
If you do not qualify for that help, the mediator will charge a standard hourly fee. That fee is based on the mediator’s fee schedule. The court does not control those fees. Mediators may set different fees with each person.
To find out whether you can get help paying your share of the mediator’s fee, please see the Uniform Sliding Fee Scale.
Mediation might be right for you if you want to:
- Control what happens in your case
- Reduce conflict and try to find agreement
- Talk about your concerns in a more private forum than in open court
Mediation isn’t right for everyone. It might not be right for you if someone in your case:
- Wants to “punish” or “get even” with someone else
- Can’t make decisions well
- Is afraid
Judges may order parties to meet with mediators. If you have a court order that requires mediation, a good-faith effort at mediation might be expected. A mediator can end a mediation session if the parties cannot agree how to move forward or if the mediator concludes that the mediator cannot facilitate the parties' discussion.
Note that the mediator will not pressure you to keep meeting if you want to stop mediating.
In cases that are not referred by court order, mediation is voluntary for all parties, and either party can end the mediation session at any time.
You may bring a lawyer, a relative, or a friend to advise and support you in mediation (find legal help here). If the other party has concerns about the role of the person you want to bring, the mediator will talk with both of you about those concerns.
Your mediator can tell you what to expect in court, but the mediator cannot give legal advice.
A lawyer can help you understand what will happen if you agree to certain options. A lawyer can also tell you what is likely to happen if you go to court.
If you mediate without a lawyer, you may bring a draft agreement developed in mediation to a lawyer before you sign it.
Only you can decide whether a draft agreement is right for you.
You may bring any draft agreement to a lawyer to make sure you fully understand what it means before you sign it. You can also return to mediation to change the terms of a draft agreement if your lawyer advises you not to sign it. Your mediator can give you more information about reviewing an agreement with a lawyer.
After you sign the agreement, you or the other party may bring it to court and ask the judge to include its terms in a court order. After that happens, both parties must follow the court’s order. The order will remain in effect until the judge agrees to modify it.
If you agree on some but not all issues, the mediator can include the terms you agree on in a draft agreement. You may bring that draft to a lawyer before you sign it. After you and the other party sign the agreement, you can bring that document to the court for approval. The court can schedule a hearing to decide any remaining issues.
Mediation is voluntary. If you’re not happy with the process, you can end it at any time. If you feel that the other party is threatening you or intimidating you, you should let the mediator know.
If you think that the mediator did something wrong, you can file a complaint. A court employee will review your complaint and talk with the mediator about your concerns. You will get a response to your complaint within 30 days. Please note: The court will investigate complaints only if the court helped pay for your mediation because these are the only cases that are part of the Vermont Superior Court Family Mediation Program.
The Vermont Superior Court Family Mediation and Parent Coordination Programs have sliding fee scales to help participants afford the services of mediators and parent coordinators.