Many counties in Georgia utilize some type of publicly sponsored Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") program such as mediation. Many of these counties now require a "good faith" effort by divorcing couples to use mediation to resolve their divorce disputes. This doesn't mean that couples are forced to agree - they're simply asked to attempt to find their own solution before presenting their case to a judge.
Overview of mediation
The courts have decided to place an emphasis on providing couples the opportunity to craft their own divorce agreement, because conventional wisdom holds that individuals that take part in creating their own agreement are more likely to follow its conditions.
Who are the mediators?
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.
What divorce topics can the mediator cover?
Couples in divorce mediation can address all issues in their divorce, including custody and child support, alimony and the division of property and debts. Again, they will not be forced to agree, but rather encouraged to come to an agreement that is in the best interest of their children and meets the child support standards set by Georgia law. Couples can enter into any mutually acceptable agreements regarding the payment of alimony and the division of their assets and debts.
Private versus court-referred mediation
There are two paths to mediation in Georgia. The first, "private mediation," involves hiring and paying a private mediator to help resolve divorce-related disputes before an action is filed with the court. Any agreement created during this process becomes legally binding with the parties' signatures. If the agreement is broken, the document can be treated as a broken contract in court.
The second approach in Georgia is called "court-referred mediation." This process begins after the divorce has been filed in court, and a judge refers the couple to mediation. Depending on the situation, parties may or may not have legal representation, such as a consulting attorney that helps provide mediation-related advice. As with private mediation, agreements reached between the parties become legally binding, and if the agreement is violated or one of the parties doesn't follow through, the court may enforce the terms.
If divorcing couples can reach their own agreements, rather than battle it out in court, they are likely to save time and money. In addition, resolving disputes in mediation can help divorcing spouses avoid the high-level of stress and anxiety that results from presenting a case at trial and leaving major, life-changing decisions in the hands of a total stranger - the judge.
The Cobb County Government website provides useful information about mediation in Georgia.
For the full text of the law governing ADR in Georgia divorces, see Ga. Code Ann., Sec. 19-5-1