Meadville Tribune

January 20, 2006

Family Law Mediation and Arbitration

by James R. Irwin

Did you know that over 50% of Pennsylvania marriages end in divorce or that the figure rises to 64% if either of the parties had been married before? The erosion of the institution of marriage is an American tragedy, but as tragic as the divorce statistics are, even more tragic is the manner in which many of these marriages end. Years of litigation, thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs, and worst of all, irreparable emotional scars caused by endless court battles often is the end result.

Thousands of people hope to avoid this type of ending, but do not know how. What is fair, when it comes to dividing property that was acquired over years of hard work? Will I have to pay alimony? Who should pay the court costs and legal fees? How much should be paid for child support? Does it matter that I didn’t cause the break-up? Should I change the locks now that he or she has left? What is a proper custody arrangement for my children?

These questions often confront people when they are under tremendous emotional and mental stress. Anxious and faced with an uncertain future, most people have absolutely no idea what to do or how to protect themselves, their children or their property. So they turn to the legal system and before they know it, they are involved in litigation over divorce, child support, child custody, property, alimony, attorney’s fees, court costs and many other issues.

There are alternatives to litigation in family law and other areas of the law that are growing in popularity and usage throughout Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States.

Two of the most widely utilized alternatives are mediation and arbitration.

In mediation, the parties (with or without the assistance of their own separate legal counsel) utilize the services of an experienced mediator, who is knowledgeable in the law to help them make the necessary and reasonable compromises required to come to a fair and just resolution to their marital problems.The mediator does not make the decision, the parties do. The mediator’s function is to help both parties understand each other’s respective positions, the applicable rules of law and facilitate settlement.

Arbitration is the other commonly used alternative dispute resolution technique now gaining popularity in this country. In arbitration, the parties agree to be bound by the decision of a third party, called the arbitrator. Unlike mediation, where the parties make their own decision, in arbitration the final decision making authority is in the hands of an impartial, experienced individual whose job is to render a fair and just decision.

The Shafer Law Firm is very pleased to be introducing to Crawford County arbitration and mediation services in the family law area. Shafer Law, through Attorney James R. Irwin, an attorney who has practiced in the family law area in Crawford County for over 26 years, now offers family law mediation and arbitration services to the residents of Crawford County as an alternative to the emotionally and economically draining process of family law litigation.

If you are interested in learning more about these services, Just Call Jim at 724-4540 extension 230.

James R. Irwin is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Family Law Section.