Divorce proceedings make up a large proportion of the cases that come before courts, and mediation can provide a more rational option for making decisions about children and property than might be achieved through aggressive attorney negotiation.
The Divorce Mediation Clinic was established when the Office of Court Administration asked the law school for assistance in expanding its alternative dispute resolution programs. Divorce mediation has become an accepted alternative to litigation in the resolution of the complex issues raised in family restructuring. This course is designed to provide both practical mediation experience and theoretical insight into divorce mediation and family law practice. While this clinic is ideal for those considering incorporating divorce mediation in their practice after graduation, it also provides useful practical experience for students interested in either ADR or family law.
Groups of students take on four to five mediations during the one-semester clinic, under the supervision of Professor Robert Collins, a divorce mediator with nearly 30 years of experience. One day each week, they serve as mediators at the courthouse in matrimonial cases referred from the Supreme Court. Students co-mediate with the instructor at the start of the semester; they then progress to act in student co-mediation teams, and may eventually have an opportunity to mediate solo, all under direct faculty supervision. Students are responsible for mediating all aspects of divorce, including a couple’s parenting arrangements, child support questions, asset division, spousal maintenance, grounds, and tax issues; students then draft settlement agreements and prepare and file divorce papers.
A two-hour seminar once each week focuses on the substantive law of custody, support and equitable distribution, an analysis of mediation techniques, models and methods, a discussion of cases currently in the clinic, and controversial topics in mediation, such as the limits of confidentiality, the appropriateness of mediating when domestic violence has occurred, and ethical questions concerning conflicts of interest and drafting legal documents. In addition to the four hours spent at the courthouse each week, students are expected to devote an additional four hours each week to related practice tasks such as drafting agreements and divorce filings, preparing a seminar presentation on a topic of their selection, and independent study and field work projects.