Alternative Dispute Resolution

Traditional litigation can be highly adversarial and full of conflict. Using litigation to resolve every issue in a divorce over a long period of time can be damaging to everyone in a family, particularly when it includes children. Litigation can also significantly increase the cost of a divorce. Most courts encourage litigants to use one of the many modes of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to resolve conflicts for some or all issues. These process options include mediation and collaborative divorce. Both spouses may recognize that reasonable compromise has significant advantages for every member of the family with regards to child custody, visitation, spousal support, and property division. At Lerner Poole & Stewart, LLP, our San Francisco alternative dispute resolution lawyers are Certified Family Law specialists with more than 25 years of combined experience. Our divorce lawyers use sophisticated negotiation techniques to guide individuals throughout the Bay Area using ADR processes, either as neutral facilitators or as advising counsel.

The Mediation Process

California law requires parties to address disputes regarding child custody and visitation through mediation. In this process, the spouses meet with a neutral and experienced third party, known as a mediator, who works with them to resolve the issues. The mediator is not authorized to offer legal advice to either spouse but instead helps clarify positions, organize issues, spur communication, and manage conflict between the spouses. Many cases are resolved through one or more mediation sessions, although in some cases it may be necessary to litigate further.

Mediation is typically less expensive than litigation. It is a voluntary process, and it requires each party to be willing to make compromises and participate in good faith. The mediator leads the process with the goal of arriving at a mutually acceptable settlement that reasonably meets the needs of all parties. Once an agreement is reached as to some or all of the disputes, the mediator will draft a memorandum of understanding, and will typically draft the final settlement agreement as well.

Both Stacey Poole and Kristine Stewart are trained mediators who can serve as neutral third-party mediators for a divorce case if we are not already serving as counsel to one of the spouses. As alternative dispute resolution attorneys, we can help San Francisco and Bay Area residents protect their interests.

Collaborative Law

Like mediation, collaborative law is a strong alternative to the courtroom. Collaborative law requires the commitment of both the spouses and their attorneys to use honesty and integrity in order to create an agreement that provides for the wellbeing of all family members. It depends on a stipulation (binding commitment) by the parties that they will not go to court and litigate their issues. This stipulation allows parties to openly share information and ideas without fear that information will be used against them. Collaborative attorneys and their clients work as a team with the shared goal of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. Neutral financial experts and mental health professionals are often engaged as part of the team.

In general, attorneys do not lead the collaborative law process, although they must be present and take an active part. Before the proceedings, the parties and attorneys agree that if they are not able to settle all issues, and one of the parties takes the matter to court, both the attorneys must withdraw from representation. The parties usually also agree at the outset that the documents produced during collaboration are inadmissible in court unless both parties agree. Thus, the spouses must start fresh if the process fails.

If parties have significant disagreements, why use collaborative law? It generally is significantly less expensive than traditional litigation, takes less time, and encourages cooperation and open communication. It also offers more control to both spouses. The clients are in charge, but the more aggressive spouse is not able to dominate or force a resolution through adversarial tactics.

Attorney Kristine Stewart is trained in the use of collaborative law to help divorcing spouses that want to work through dissolution issues in a respectful, non-adversarial setting.

Discuss Your Matter with an Alternative Dispute Resolution Lawyer in San Francisco

The compassionate family law attorneys at Lerner Poole & Stewart, LLP are knowledgeable in complex areas such as child custody and child support, and can guide residents of Alameda, San Francisco, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Marin Counties through the ADR process. Our San Francisco alternative dispute resolution attorneys also can take your case to court as necessary to guard your individual interests. You can contact us at (415) 391-6000 or via our online form to schedule an initial consultation to discuss the details of your situation.

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