This evaluation features an explanation of the program, information about the research project, details of case complexity, case flow, disposition time and manner of disposition, content of custody orders, as well as the results of a parent survey, a mediation exit survey and an attorney survey.
Description of Study: Comparative study looking at trial rate and satisfaction in custody and visitation cases.
Method: Examined data from court records in two mediation program samples and two non-program samples. Surveyed parents in the same two program samples and one of the non-program samples three years after their cases were closed. An exit survey of parties was conducted immediately following their mediation session in 17 mediation program districts. Attorneys practicing family law in the same 17 districts were surveyed for their perspective on mediation in general.
Comparison Groups: Cases mediated in counties with programs and cases from counties without programs
Sample Size: Immediately after mediation: 310 parties and 273 attorneys. Three years after case closed: 293 parents. Data from court records of 880 cases (approximately 12% of the total).
Variables Examined: Trial rate, time to disposition, satisfaction with the outcome, attorney attitudes regarding client costs and time spent
Program Variables: Mandatory for contested custody and visitation disputes in pre-decree cases, by referral in post-decree cases. Individual jurisdictions differed as to whether court or attorney had control over when cases went to mediation. In court-controlled jurisdictions, cases were ordered to mediation between 45 and 60 days after filing. In attorney-controlled jurisdictions, attorneys had more input as to when mediation would occur. Program had been in place 9 years at the time of study. The mediation style was reported to be facilitative.
Findings: No difference was found in median time to disposition between mediated and non-mediated cases (which ranged from 4.9 to 6.9 months); there was no effect on trial rate; no difference was found in parties’ long-term satisfaction with the outcome between mediated and non-mediated cases; long-term satisfaction with the process was greater for those who settled in mediation than for those who did not or who did not participate in mediation. 73% of attorneys who were surveyed said mediation reduced their clients’ costs; another 76% indicated it reduced the amount of time they spent on a case.