Our justice system is adversarial by nature: Most cases pit one party against another, and the two sides take turns arguing why it is right and the other is wrong. The court listens to both sides and comes to a decision about how justice should be served.

When this method applies to a divorce case, it means pitting the spouses against each other, so that they can argue about who deserves what in the division of property. These arguments can get heated very quickly, and angry arguments can often lead to long-lasting resentments. It’s bad enough when these resentments follow an argument over property, but when they involve young children, they can be harmful to everyone involved, especially the children. For this reason and others, mediation is often a better choice than trial for resolving family law issues involving children, especially child custody, or parenting, as it is known in Massachusetts law.

Mediation is a form of negotiation, in which the two sides seek to work out their issues with guidance from a neutral third party. This third party, the mediator, does not decide the case, the way a judge or arbitrator does. Rather, the mediator guides the conversation so that the two parties can come to an agreement. Mediation can lower the tension and animosity between two arguing parties and help them reach agreement.

Many parents use mediation to divvy up custody issues in a parenting plan. For instance, they may work out a plan where their child stays with one parent during the week and the other parent during the weekend.

Each party should have its own lawyer during mediation. Many mediators are lawyers, but the mediator cannot represent either of the parties in a mediation.

Sometimes, two parties can work out their differences without mediation, and there are, of course, some cases where an issue can only be resolved by going to court. However, mediation is very useful in many family law cases. To learn more about mediation, speak to a skilled lawyer.