Assistant Dean Kimberly Emery; 4 Credits; Semester-long
Students use 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 will serve not as attorneys representing clients, but as mediators assisting the parties to develop mutually agreeable resolutions to their disputes. Students will have the opportunity to observe the differences between litigation and alternative dispute resolution 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 a neutral facilitator versus that of an advocate.
A 16-hour basic mediation training at the start of the fall semester will allow 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 clinic also includes a weekly seminar, class discussion, readings and role plays to provide students with a solid understanding of the theory and practice of mediation. Students also will be expected to observe an adversarial family law court case as well as a court-mandated co-parenting class.
This course is open to second- and third-year law students.