Divorce is rarely a simple and straightforward matter in any locale, influenced as it is by any number of personal, interpersonal and broad-scale cultural factors, and Utah’s divorce situation is somewhat unique. According to statistics compiled by the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records and Statistics, the state’s divorce rate has been slightly above the national average since 2000, with the sole exception of 2005. The reasons underlying this statistical pattern are complex and may be partially rooted in the state’s unique cultural and religious underpinnings. Utah residents generally marry at a younger age more often than couples in many other states, according to the Pew Research Center.

On May 5, 2005, a law took effect in Utah that required mandatory mediation for contested divorces, following the example of several other states that had already enacted such laws. Specifically, Utah’s law requires at least one session of mediation led by a qualified mediator, with the cost divided equally between both parties.

What are the advantages of mediation?

Mediation gained momentum in the early 1970s as an alternative to litigating visitation and custody issues. These issues have a tendency to be emotionally charged, and adversarial litigation over such matters often strained the courts and emptied the pocketbooks of divorcing couples. Even today, high-profile contested divorces make headlines with record settlements and drawn-out accounts of multiple trials and complex motions. While settlements may seem impressive, the costs associated with such litigation can be prohibitive, sometimes topping out at six figures or more. Mediation provides an alternative means of resolving hotly contested issues before a neutral third party, and it relieves congestion in the courts as well, which is why it was initially promoted by attorneys and judges.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of mediation is the control that parents regain over the future of their children compared to leaving all such decisions in the hands of a potentially overburdened judge. Additionally, mediation is can be more cost-effective when compared to litigation and typically expedites the divorce process. However, it is vital that both parents participate in “good faith,” that is, approach the process with an earnest intent toward resolution, in order for the process to ultimately be effective. Utah’s mandatory mediation law even specifically notes that “the parties shall participate in good faith.”

Details about the law

Utah’s Divorce Mediation Program stipulates that a qualified mediator who is on the state’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Court Roster be secured as soon as a response is given to the initial divorce petition. There are rare circumstances in which mediation may be excused; typically, they involve abusive situations. While financially needy parties may submit a Divorce Mediation Program Income Survey to potentially secure a pro bono mediator, it may be best for those who have the resources to thoroughly investigate their options as a skilled mediator may make a crucial difference in helping a couple achieve resolution; a failed mediation session, notably, may send a case to the court system when a successful session or series of sessions may avoid litigation altogether.

As the picture of marriage and divorce in Utah continues to evolve, mediation continues to provide a promising avenue for addressing the complexities and contentious issues underlying each relationship so that both parties may emerge from the process ready to live independently as well as cooperatively. Selecting an intelligent and compassionate family law attorney qualified as a mediator is the vital first step in this process.

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