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Final Report of the Divorce Mediation Research Project

NCJ Number
J Pearson; N Thoennes
Date Published
810 pages
This report contains 12 papers describing findings of the Divorce Mediation Research Project, a 3-year project involving surveys of operating services throughout the United States and indepth studies of 3 public-sector mediation services: the Los Angeles Conciliation Court of the Los Angeles Superior Court, the Custody Resolution Counseling Program of Hennepin County Court (Minnesota), and the Family Division of the Connecticut Superior Court.
Goals of the project are to (1) measure and compare the outcomes, cost, and impacts of mediation and traditional adversarial processes; (2) identify the characteristics of the dispute, the disputants, and the mediators which are associated with successful mediation outcomes; and (3) measure and compare specific outcomes of different model programs. A variety of methods were used to gather data and construct the research data base -- survey and mail questionnaires, observation, interviews with court staff, clients, and their families, audiotaping of sessions, and followup surveys and studies of court records. Comparisons were also made with cases in six Colorado courts not offering court-based mediation and with non-contested custody cases in Denver. The papers discuss the findings. The first reviews the literature on alternatives to court adjudication, concluding that many proponents of mediation have oversold it as an alternative. The second discusses four issues to address before implementing divorce mediation in the public sector: the government's role in mediation services; the legal authority for mediation services; the service structure that maximizes administrative and cost efficiencies; and the specific procedures governing the process. Additional papers describe mediation services in the public and private sectors, custody mediation at three study sites and client reactions to the programs, and children's adjustment to divorce. Also examined is the mediation process analysis, a descriptive coding system for predicting the outcomes of divorce mediation. Overall, findings show that settlement rates fluctuate around 50 percent and that all three formats studied are viable as measured by their ability to mediate agreements and to satisfy professional staff and clients, even those clients who do not settle. Mediation is preferred over evaluations do not settle. Mediation is preferred over evaluations and court hearings as a method of resolving disputes over custody and visitation. Appendixes contain study instruments and list publications, papers, and presentations of the Divorce Mediation Research Project. Approximately 250 references, 25 figures, and 100 tables are included. For individual papers, see NCJ 98055-98066.