"This study was designed to take a look at two demographically similar counties, James City County and York County, Virginia . . .to determine whether or not there was any empirical evidence to suggest that early intervention mediation resulted in a greater number of successfully mediated cases than the more traditional approach of summonsing the parties to Court for a preliminary hearing prior to a referral to mediation." The study found that in James City County, which utilized early intervention mediation, 72.9% of the 105 petitions accepted for mediation resulted in a mediated agreement, compared to an agreement rate of 39.5% in York County (which utilized the more traditional method of referral). Further, 14.3% of the 105 petitions in James City County were adjudicated by the court, while York County experienced an adjudication rate of 59%. York County also had almost five times more court hearings than James City County.
Description of Study: Comparison of the early intervention divorce mediation program in James City County, VA, to a post-initial hearing mediation program in York County, VA.
Method: Studied court records for all contested custody and visitation cases filed between September 1999 and August 2000.
Comparison Groups: Custody and visitation cases in James City County, which has an early intervention mediation program, and in York County, which offers voluntary mediation at a later point in the case
Sample Size: 176 cases in James City County and 262 cases in York County
Variables Examined: Settlement rate, time to disposition, number of court hearings per case
Program Variables: James City County:Mediation was initially free, but later was for-fee. All cases were referred at filing to an orientation at which they learned about the effects of conflict on children and they met with a mediator for a domestic violence screening and information session on mediation; mediation was voluntary thereafter. Parents wanting to mediate were assigned a mediator and a mediation date at the orientation. The program was in place less than one year before study commencement. York County: On the day of the preliminary hearing, a court liaison from Social Services who recommended some cases for mediation. Judges generally followed the recommendation and ordered mediation. Those parents ordered to mediation attended an orientation session and then mediation. Parents were charged based on income.
Findings: The median number of days in James City County from petition for custody to final order for mediated cases was 48 days; in York County the median was 92 days. James City County averaged fewer court hearings per case and fewer mediation sessions per case. Settlement was reached in 72.4% of mediated cases in James City County and in 39.5% of cases in York County.