In New Hampshire, most cases are resolved through some form of dispute resolution process rather than trial.  Mediation is the most common alternative dispute resolution process.  All parents of minor children and most other divorcing parties are required to attend mediation, absent unusual circumstances.  In mediation, a neutral third party facilitates a discussion between parties to a dispute.  Mediation is private and confidential.  Mediators help parties discuss disputed issues, goals, and possible solutions so that parties can reach agreements on parenting and financial matters.  Mediators do not impose decisions, nor can they inform the court about the substance of a mediation, except in highly unusual circumstances.

The format of mediation may vary significantly from case to case. (Read more on our blog). Most mediations occur at a courthouse or an attorney’s office with a mediator who is a legal professional.  The mediator may shuttle back and forth between rooms to communicate proposals or may conduct the mediation with all parties in the same room.  Mediation may occur over the course of multiple short meetings, a half day, or a full day.  The court may appoint a mediator, or parties may select the mediator and retain the mediator privately.  Court-appointed mediators typically conduct a series of two-hour or three-hour mediation sessions.  These sessions may span several weeks or months.  In contrast, privately retained mediators typically schedule mediation for a full day, or sometimes a half day.  A full day of mediation may stop at the end of the business day, continue later in the evening if the circumstances warrant it or span more than one day.

Attending a full day of mediation, after each side has adequately prepared for it, is best for cases that involve several disputes or complex issues.  Devoting an entire day to the process is often necessary to permit meaningful discussion and negotiation of such matters.  A full-day mediation maximizes the potential to settle a complex case and avoids the setbacks associated with significant breaks between mediation sessions.  When a case is resolved through mediation, the parties often sign settlement documents on that same date or shortly thereafter.  So long as the settlement agreements are consistent with the law and court rules, settlement agreements are often approved by the court within one month of filing, without the need for a hearing or appearance in court.