Mediation for Low-income New Yorkers: They Deserve the Choice
NYLAG prides itself on its excellent litigation skills, particularly in complex cases involving domestic violence, where a talented litigator is necessary to ensure the safety of the victim. However, we have also long recognized the value of alternative dispute resolution for certain other matters, which not only saves court and attorney resources, but can ultimately create more workable solutions for clients.
In the corporate world, mediation is becoming an increasingly preferred alternative to protracted and expensive litigation. For people of means, mediation has also become a popular choice for handling family law matters such as divorces, which are particularly well suited to the process. Sadly, though, mediation is not currently an option for most low-income families. Those who are lucky enough to secure pro bono or low bono representation still end up litigating their cases in court, while the vast majority are forced to litigate without an attorney.
Recognizing both the need and the value, I am thrilled to report that NYLAG is the first free legal service organization in New York City to launch a Mediation Project. This pilot program will create a model for providing free family law mediation to low-income New Yorkers, evaluate the effectiveness of these services, and establish best practices that can be applied to other organizations across the nation.
NYLAG’s project is also unique in that we help the parties find pro bono or low bono attorneys who provide legal advice and review any agreement that the parties may reach, strengthening the mediation.
Mediation is far less expensive and much faster than litigation, and it can improve communications between parties, such as parents, who will need to continue to be in contact with each other in the future. And data supports its effectiveness, as this sampling of surveys shows:
- 69% of participants in mediation report high satisfaction compared to 47% of people who go to court.
- Parties comply with 85% of mediated child support but with only 50% of court-ordered child support.
- 28% of the nonresidential parents who mediated were still seeing their children on a weekly basis 12 years after the initial agreement, compared to 9% of parents who were assigned by the study to resolve their divorce or custody dispute through litigation, and 11% for the national average of litigated custody cases.
- 52% of nonresidential parents who mediated talked to their children on a weekly basis 12 years later, compared to just 14% of nonresidential parents who litigated, and 18% for the national average.
- Couples going to court reported spending 134 percent more for their divorces than those in the mediation sample.
These are real-life results that can have an enormous, positive impact on poor families who deserve the same choice of legal process as their wealthier counterparts.
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge