Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law Appellate Mediation

What is family law appellate mediation?

Mediation is a flexible, nonbinding, and confidential process in which an impartial person, the mediator, helps individuals and their attorneys have discussion that promotes settlement.  A mediator

  • improves communication and enhances understanding between the participants;
  • helps participants express their needs and understand the needs of others;
  • probes the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s legal positions;
  • identifies areas of agreement; and
  • helps generate options for a mutually agreeable resolution to the dispute.

A hallmark of mediation is its capacity to expand traditional settlement discussion and broaden resolution options, often by exploring participants’ needs and interests that may be formally independent of the legal issues on appeal.  The mediator will not give an overall evaluation of the case. 

Why family law appellate mediation?

The benefits of appellate mediation can include:
  • More satisfactory results. The trial court judgment might not satisfy even the prevailing party. A mediator can assist the parties to achieve their real goals.
  • Focusing on children.  For issues where children are involved, mediation helps parents focus on the best interests of the children.
  • Economic benefits. The mediation process begins at the outset of the appeal. This can save substantial costs of preparing the record and briefs. 
  • Rapid settlements. Mediation can resolve a dispute in a matter of days, while an appeal takes much longer.
  • Allowing more client participation. Clients without attorneys participate in the appeals process through written submissions only, and do not have a hearing.  Even clients with attorneys can feel frustrated by their restricted role in the appeals process. 
  • A higher rate of follow-through.  Parties who have reached their own agreement in mediation are generally more likely to comply with its terms than those whose resolution has been imposed on them.  
  • Reducing stress. Mediation encourages cooperation and communication, while discouraging the adversarial atmosphere of litigation.
  • Avoiding financial risk. A judgment for payment or transfer of property still does not ensure collection.

My family law appeal has been ordered to mediation.  What happens next?

When a family law appeal is filed with the Court of Appeals, the case is first screened for the appropriateness of mediation.  If your case presents issues that would be suitable for mediation, then an order staying (temporarily stopping) the appellate process will be sent to you in the mail.  Included with the order will be a confidential information form and a mediator selection form that each party, or the party’s attorney, must fill out and send back to the Family Law Appellate Mediation Office. 

Who attends the mediation?

All parties to the appeal, and their lawyers if they have them, are required to attend mediation.  Under special circumstances, other arrangements may be made, if acceptable to the mediator and all parties.  This requirement reflects the Court of Appeal’s view that the principles of mediation include affording the litigants the opportunity to explain their wants and needs directly to the other parties and the mediator and to hear firsthand the other party’s wants and needs.  Mediation also enables parties to directly discuss opportunities for mutually acceptable solutions.

Who are the mediators?

The roster currently includes about 20 people who are highly respected mediators.  All of them are attorneys and they have many years of family mediation experience and an understanding of the appellate process.  They are qualified family law neutrals under the Minnesota General Rule of Practice for the District Courts Rule 114 and have completed additional training on appellate mediation.  They have agreed to serve on this panel on a sliding fee basis because they want to help people in the appellate process resolve their issues successfully.

Can I be exempt from mediation?

The confidential information form sent to each party allows the party to provide information to determine whether the case may not be suitable for mediation.  When a party requests an exemption from the mediation process, the request will be evaluated.  If the exemption is granted, a letter will be sent to all parties advising them of the exemption and an order will be sent at a later date advising each party of the steps and timelines that are required for an appeal.

How does the process work if we proceed to mediation?

After confidential information forms are received from both parties, the fees will be determined and the case will be assigned to a mediator.  The Family Law Appellate Mediation Office will then contact unrepresented parties or the attorneys for represented parties to set up a premediation conference call with the mediator.  Parties can expect to hear from the Family Law Appellate Mediation Office approximately ten (10) days after forms from all parties are received by the office.

How should I prepare for mediation?

If you are not represented by an attorney, you can think about these ideas before attending mediation, or discuss them with someone you trust.  Attorneys and clients can discuss these ideas together before attending mediation.
  • Understand your goals and needs.  Mediation helps parties explore what really matters to them.  You can prepare for mediation by thinking about what you need to resolve the matter.  Needs are not just what you WANT the court to do, but also WHY you want it . . . think about how getting what you want will benefit you and your family.  
  • Expect the discussion to go beyond the legal issues.  Think about what is of highest value to you.  It might not be what is in the appeal.  For example, sometimes your children’s stability, being respected, a favorable relationship with someone, or ending the stress of litigation can be of equal or higher value than money or principle.
  • Prioritize.  Think about what interests are most important to you to achieve.  Understand where you may be willing to make concessions to get what you most want.
  • Think about what the other party needs.  Other parties have their own goals and needs.  They may overlap with yours or they may be different.  Mediation works to find creative ways to help the parties meet many of their needs.  Think about questions to ask the other party to understand what is most important to them.
  • Create a list of options.  Consider a variety of ways to meet your needs and those of the other parties.  Be creative and leave the possibility open that you will find more options through your discussions in mediation.

What happens to the appeal if we settle during mediation?

If your case settles during mediation, the mediator will draft a Mediation Settlement Agreement documenting the settlement, which both parties sign.  The parties or their attorneys then draft a stipulation and submit it to the district court and also file a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of the appeal with the court of appeals. 

What happens to the appeal if we do not settle after mediating?
If you do not settle during mediation, the mediator will return a Mediator Case Closing Notice to the Family Law Appellate Mediation Office indicating that the issues were not settled.  The Court of Appeals will then issue an order restarting the appeal and telling you the new timelines for proceeding in the appellate process.

For general program questions call: 651-296-6739