What is mediation and how is it used in Washington family law?

Understanding Mediation in Washington Family Law

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that plays a crucial role in Washington family law, helping parties to resolve conflicts outside the courtroom. It involves a neutral third party, known as a mediator, who assists disputing parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on issues such as divorce, child custody, property division, and spousal support.

The Mediation Process

The mediation process in Washington is voluntary and confidential. It begins with both parties agreeing to meet with a qualified mediator, who facilitates open communication and negotiation. The mediator does not make decisions for the parties but instead helps them understand each other's perspectives and guides them towards finding common ground.

During mediation sessions, parties can discuss their concerns and interests freely. The mediator encourages them to explore various options for settlement, always aiming for an outcome that respects the rights and needs of both parties—and, importantly, any involved children.

Benefits of Mediation in Family Law

Mediation offers numerous benefits compared to traditional litigation. It is typically less adversarial, less expensive, and quicker than going to court. Additionally, it allows parties to maintain control over the outcome rather than leaving decisions in the hands of a judge. This aspect of mediation is particularly beneficial in family law matters where the parties' ongoing relationship as co-parents can be preserved or even improved through cooperative conflict resolution.

Mediation and Washington State Law

In Washington State, family law mediation is supported by statutes and court rules that encourage the use of this dispute resolution method. For example, Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 26.09.015 promotes the amicable settlement of disputes that arise between parties during family law proceedings.

Furthermore, local family courts often require mediation before allowing the case to proceed to trial. This requirement underscores the state's preference for settlements reached outside of the courtroom, which are generally considered more sustainable and satisfactory to all involved parties.

Examples from Practice

To illustrate the effectiveness of mediation in family law, consider a case where parents are disputing child custody arrangements. Instead of enduring a contentious court battle, they opt for mediation. Through guided discussions and compromise facilitated by the mediator, they may agree on a parenting plan that addresses both their concerns and prioritizes their child's well-being.

Historically, mediation has been instrumental in shaping family law outcomes. One notable example is the landmark case of 'Folberg v. Kass', which was settled through mediation and helped establish standards for mediating family disputes within Washington State.


Mediation serves as a valuable tool in Washington family law by fostering a more amicable and collaborative approach to resolving disputes. Its confidential nature preserves privacy while its flexibility accommodates the unique needs of families in transition. As such, it continues to be an increasingly popular choice among those seeking resolution without resorting to litigation.