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Does Divorce Mediation and Custody Mediation Result in Higher Compliance Rates with Agreements?

A question that is frequently posed is, does divorce mediation and custody mediation  result in  higher compliance rates  with agreements than decisions reached through an adversarial process (litigation)?  Research indicates that, at lease in the near-term, that is the case.  A summary of research studies addressing the question of compliance rates is as follows:

  • A custody mediation studies from family courts in California found that parents who mediated their custody arrangements had more sufficient details in their agreements to guide them in complying, compared with those using other methods of resolving their disputes (g. litigation) (64% vs. 53%).
  • In a study of mediated versus non-mediated parenting disputes, Colorado courts found that in the first two years following the entry of final divorce orders, 38 percent of the comparison group returned to court compared with 24 percent of the mediation group. In three specific areas (parenting time modifications, child support contempt, and other modifications) significant compliance differences favored the mediation group.
  • In a Canadian custody study, adversarial couples reported a significantly higher rate of re-litigation during the first two years post-divorce compared with a mediation group.
  • A child custody and support study from Charlottesville, Virginia found that fathers in mediated custody disputes complied more often with their child support orders than did fathers who litigated their cases.
  • A California divorce and mediation project found that there was significantly more compliance immediately after divorce in the mediation group, compared with the adversarial group, on an eleven-item compliance scale, and more compliance in the areas of (i) paying spousal support, (ii) the final division of personal property and household furnishings, and (iii) the division of community property.
  • A divorce/family mediation pilot project from Ontario, Canada found that compliance problems were reported in greater numbers in adversarial divorces as compared with mediated divorces. Further, within the mediation group, compliance was greater among those participating in multiple mediation sessions, compared with those just participating in one mediation session.
  • In a child protection mediation program in five California courts, complete compliance with mediated agreements was found in 42% of the cases, compared with only 25 % of the comparison group six months post disposition.

Difference in compliance rates and re-litigation rates between mediated and non-mediated divorce and custody settlements appear to disappear two years post-resolution.

Source: Kelly, J.B (2004).  Family Mediation Research: Is There Empirical Support for the Field.  Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Vol. 22, nos. 1-2, Fall-Winter.