Regarding: Explanation of 4-903 Custody Evaluation Mediation
This is a form letter explaining the 4-903 custody evaluation mediation process. Since this is a form letter, it is a general explanation of the process and not specific to your case. If you would like greater explanation regarding 4-903 mediations, please, feel free to call us and ask any questions you may have. We will be happy to speak with you.
In a previous letter, we explained the custody evaluation process. One part of that explanation mentioned a 4-903 conference mediation:
After the evaluator has finished finalizing his or her findings and recommendations, we will receive those recommendations orally. (If a written report is necessary, an additional fee applies.) After receiving the recommendations orally, we will schedule what is common called a “4-903 Conference.” This is a conference between the parties, the Commissioner, the custody evaluator, and a mediator. During this conference, the evaluator reiterates his or her recommendations, and then the parties engage in mediation to see if they can settle the case without the need of a trial.
We are now at the 4-903 conference point.
Let us recap a little about mediation generally and the 4-903 conference mediation in particular.
Mediation is a voluntary alternative dispute resolution process, and is successful when all parties negotiate in good faith. A mediator is a neutral third-party and not a judge. He or she does not hear evidence or testimony and render a decision as a judge would. Instead, the mediator listens to the parties and helps facilitate communication and help the parties negotiate a settlement based on their particular circumstances.
Mediators, like everyone else, charge for their services. They usually cost between $100 and $250 per hour – i.e., $50 to $125 per hour per person. You are responsible to pay all mediation fees at the time of mediation.
If mediation is successful, you will reach an agreement and sign a settlement agreement. If you sign an agreement during mediation, you should assume you will be bound by that agreement. Attempting to change a signed mediated settlement after you have agreed to it in writing is very difficult, unless the other party agrees of their own free will. Usually, forcing the change of a mediated settlement can only be done if the other party committed some sort of fraud, and you would need to go to court to force a change. Of course, this applies to the other side as well, which means if you do not wish to change a mediated settlement, you do not have to, and they will have a very difficult time attempting to force a change in court.
Now that we’ve reviewed mediations generally, let’s discuss 4-903 conference mediations particularly.
4-903 mediations usually take place in the courthouse. This means we (i.e., you and I, the other party, the custody evaluator, and the mediator) go to Court and begin by meeting personally with the commissioner. The commissioner will usually give an opening statement about the 4-903 process and how he or she hopes mediation will be successful. After that, the commissioner will leave and the custody evaluator will discuss recommendations. This usually begins by talking to each party about strengths and weaknesses and how they effectively or ineffectively parent their child(ren), then moving to the specific custody and parent-time recommendations. Everyone will have a chance to ask the evaluator questions to clarify recommendations. When the evaluator is finished, he or she will leave and mediation will begin. (We will have the evaluator’s phone number in case we need to call for further clarification.) At this point, parties will break up into separate rooms inside the courthouse.
During a 4-903 mediation, we will discuss not only custody and parent-time, but all outstanding issues in your case in an attempt to finalize everything. If we do reach an agreement, we will read it on the record in front of the commissioner. After it is read on the record, the commissioner will ask the parties if they agree to be bound by the agreement. Once the parties say yes, they are bound by that agreement as if the agreement were in writing and signed. At this point, the mediation will end and we will leave the courthouse. The other attorney and I will then work on reducing the agreement to writing and finalize the case. Additional documents may be necessary to finalize (e.g., updated pay stubs), so please provide those if we ask you for them.
Hopefully, this letter has helped explain the 4-903 conference mediation process. Again, if you have any questions regarding your case, please call 801-685-9999.
/s/ Marco Brown