Academics: Professional Training

Family Alternative Dispute Resolution Clinic

Professor Richard Balnave Assistant Dean Kimberly Emery; 6 Credits

The course focuses on mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method to resolve conflicts involving families and children. Traditional family law practice is adversarial and lawyers represent their clients by negotiating issues or litigating cases. Outcomes are determined not by the parties, but by judges. Social science research has demonstrated the potentially harmful effects of adversarial litigation on children, especially since this method of conflict resolution tends to increase rather than decrease conflict between parents. Mediation, an alternative to adversarial litigation, uses a neutral third-party facilitator to guide and empower the parties to reach their own agreements.

In this clinic, students serve not as attorneys representing clients, but as mediators assisting the parties to develop mutually agreeable resolutions to their disputes. Students learn about the differences between litigation and mediation while enhancing their negotiation skills—skills that are important in many different substantive law areas. In addition, students will gain a solid understanding of mediation ethics, creative problem-solving and the role of neutral facilitator versus that of advocate.

A 16-hour Basic Mediation training at the start of the fall semester allows students to develop mediation skills such as active listening, paraphrasing, reframing and the drafting of agreements. After completing the training, students will co-mediate cases with court-certified family mediators associated with the Mediation Center of Charlottesville. Most of the disputes being mediated will involve child custody and visitation, although some may also include child and spousal support issues. Case referrals for family mediations will come primarily from the local Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. The facilitative method of mediation will be used for these cases. Supervision accompanies each mediation opportunity. Students are also expected to do case intakes at the Mediation Center.

During the fall semester the clinic includes a weekly seminar, class discussion, readings and role-plays to provide students with a solid understanding of the theory and practice of mediation. In the spring the clinic will meet for approximately 8 classes at times to be scheduled at an organizational meeting early in the semester. Students will be exposed to and participate in simulations of other ADR methods (e.g., evaluative mediation, collaborative law and restorative justice) that are used in family cases.

This yearlong clinic is open to 2L and 3L students. Students earn a total of 6 credits during two semesters — 4 in the fall and 2 in the spring.

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