There are many types of mediation. This blog will only address the most common forms of mediation in Wisconsin Family Law.
Typically, when the parties cannot agree on placement or custody issues, the Court will initially refer the parties to meet with a mediator. Mediation is generally mandatory although the Court can refrain from ordering mediation in cases involving domestic abuse. In Dane County, the mediator is usually a member of the Family Court Services staff. Almost always this mediation is done without attorneys present. The parties and mediator then meet for usually an hour or more to see if the issues can be resolved. If not, then, at least in initial divorce proceedings, the Court will usually appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child or children’s best interests and make a recommendation as to what placement and custody terms are in the children’s best interests. In Dane County, the Court will typically refer the matter to Family Court Services for a custody study as well.
For financial issues which cannot be resolved through negotiations, the Dane County Bar Association sponsors the Dane County Case Mediation Program in which the lawyers choose a third attorney, from a list of volunteer attorneys, to serve as a mediator. The parties, attorneys and mediator then meet for usually about three hours to see if the financial issues can be resolved. Most cases I have taken to mediation do settle, largely because if it fails then the only way to resolve the issues is generally a trial before the judge assigned to the case. Therefore, even in contentious cases, the parties often do settle in order to avoid the expense and risk of trial.