The NYLAG Mediation Project Coordinator Antoinette Delruelle, center, brings years of mediation and family law experience to the new division.

NYLAG is known for 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, the agency has 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 is forced to litigate without an attorney.

Recognizing both the need and the value, NYLAG recently became the first free legal services 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 Mediation Project is also unique in that it helps 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, especially parents, who will need to continue to be in contact with each other in the future. And data supports its effectiveness, as recent surveys have shown. Nearly 70% of participants in mediation report higher satisfaction compared to 47% of people who go to court, while parties comply with mediated child support far more often than court-ordered child support. In addition, the impact on parental involvement in their children’s lives is substantial, with far more nonresidential parents who took part in mediation still seeing and communicating regularly with their children than those who litigated. Looking at the bottom line, couples going to court reported spending a whopping 134% 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.