As of September 2, 2008, the Minnesota Court of Appeals will refer all family court appeals for mandatory mediation (with some exceptions for cases involving, for example, domestic violence). The program was designed to decrease costs and conflict for families involved in appellate cases while increasing litigant satisfaction.

Upon the filing of a Notice of Appeal, the Court will immediately refer litigants to mediation. Mediators available to serve include a panel of 12 retired judges and/or experienced family law attorneys. Parties will pay the costs of the mediation on a sliding fee scale.

This pilot program was initiated three years ago as the result of a meeting between Judge Harriet Lansing and William Mitchell College of Law Vice Dean for Academic Programs Nancy Ver Steegh. Ver Steegh is known for her work in the area of family law and alternative dispute resolution, and serves as an Editor for the Family Law Professor Blog. The Chief Judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Edward Touissant, believes the program is here to stay, calling it a “win-win” situation.

A few other states have adopted similar programs, with a resolution rate as high as 76 percent. That’s an impressive statistic, given the adversarial mindset of litigants – especially following a trial.

We’ve seen clients benefit from the trend toward resolving family disputes through mediation.   This new mandatory appellate mediation might just result in additional justification for working with a mediator in the very early stages of litigation and avoiding unnecessary fees, costs, time and emotion.