Most divorce and custody cases in Berrien County are ordered to attend Court ordered mediation. Mediation is a form of conflict resolution. Mediation allows the parties to resolve their cases outside of a court hearing, and can take place at any point in time during a case subject to order of the Court. 

What can I expect?

Most divorce and custody cases involving children under the age of 18 are Court ordered to mediation.  If your case is ordered to mediation, the mediation clerk will issue an Order of Referral giving parties 7 days to agree, in writing, to a mediator of their choice.  If parties are choosing their own mediator, they are responsible for setting up the mediation and providing that information to the mediation clerk.  If a stipulation is not received within 7 days, a mediator will be assigned and the mediation clerk will notify both parties of the date, time and location of the mediation session.

During mediation, the parents sit down together with a trained neutral mediator to talk about any issues which need to be resolved. The mediator is trained to help parties identify and carefully consider options. The mediator will not make the decisions or give the Court a recommendation. The decisions are up to you. Mediation is an opportunity for you to assume control over your future and the future of your child(ren). Attendance is mandatory.  If you believe there are no issues to resolve and mediation is not necessary, you must both contact the mediator directly prior to the session to discuss the possibility of cancelling.  A minimum of 24 hours cancellation notice is required OR no later than 5:00 p.m. the Friday prior if mediation is scheduled for a Monday.  There is a $150 fee for late cancellations or not appearing.

What happens if we reach an agreement?

Mediation agreements are not binding or enforceable by the Court.  The agreement needs to be put in the form of a court order addressing temporary issues (custody, parenting time, child support, etc.) and must be signed by the parties, the Friend of the Court and the judge.  You may contact the Self-Help Legal Resource Center or your own attorney to assist you in preparing an appropriate order.

What happens if we don't reach an agreement?

In your Order for SMILE Program, Mediation and Recall Hearing, there will be a date and time for a Recall Hearing.  If you do not reach an agreement prior to or through mediation, you must go to the Recall Hearing.

How are the Costs of Mediation Paid?

Mediation of Temporary Issues: Court approved mediators have agreed to limit their rates to no more than $150 per hour for mediation of temporary issues. The parties are responsible for the cost of mediation.  However, if you qualify, the Court will help you pay for the cost of mediation.  Your hourly rates based on your income and the number of children you have.  Your share of the mediation fees are to be paid at the time of the session.  For the first session, you shod be prepared to pay at least  $75, which will cover half of a one-hour session.

Further Mediation: Parties are responsible to pay the costs of further mediation even if a fee waiver has been granted in the case.  Hourly rates vary by mediator.  Click here for a list of mediators and their fees.  If parties cannot afford to pay a private mediator, they may agree to participate in mediation through no cost mediation services that are available.