Mediation and the Family Transition Project


By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)

Learn about what happens during and after mediation. Learn about what rights you have regarding mediation.
Resource Information

Mediation FAQ

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a series of confidential meetings with an impartial person trained to help you and the other party reach an agreement.

Mediation is an out-of-court way for people to resolve disputes.  A mediator is a neutral and impartial third party trained to help people reach agreements about contested issues.  A mediator is not a judge.  Both parties meet with the mediator to talk about what they want and what they think is best.  If the parties reach agreement in mediation on any or all contested issues, then that agreement can be written out and signed by each party.  Then the signed agreement can be presented to the judge for approval of the agreement as a court order.  The agreement doesn’t become a court order unless the judge signs it too.

Is Mediation right for me?

Mediation is right for you if:

  • You and the other party are comfortable and capable of communicating with each other;

  • Each of you agree to participate in the mediation before any mediation session can be scheduled; and

  • You and the other party want to make decisions about your problem instead of asking the judge to make those decisions.

What does a mediator do?
  • Mediators keep the mediation sessions private and confidential.
  • Mediators help you and the other party communicate.
  • Mediators listen to you and the other party and help you solve disagreements.
  • Mediators help you explore all the possible options and solutions for your issues.
What doesn't a mediator do?
  • Mediators cannot testify in court about what happened in mediation.
  • Mediators do not make decisions for you.
  • Mediators do not offer legal advice.
  • Mediators do not assign blame for what has already happened.
  • Mediators focus on what needs to happen next to solve the problem.
What should I expect in mediation?
  • You should expect to be treated with respect by the mediator and by the other party during mediation.
  • You should also treat the mediator and the other party with respect during mediation.
  • If you want to tell the mediator something during mediation without the other party hearing, you can ask to meet with the mediator privately.
  • If you have made a genuine effort in mediation and you feel that you are not being treated respectfully or that the mediation is not being productive, you can leave mediation.
  • You should not feel forced to sign something at mediation.
  • Do not sign anything at mediation unless you truly agree to it.
  • Any issues that you still don't agree on after mediation can be decided by the judge later at a hearing.
How long will it take?

On average mediation can take around three to four hours to reach an agreement between participants.

Am I required to reach an agreement during mediation?


You are not required to reach an agreement during mediation. If you can't reach an agreement, then the mediator will let the judge know that mediation was not successful. You or the other party can ask for a hearing before the judge after mediation so that the judge can decide the contested issues after the hearing. 

You must give mediation a fair chance. You should also listen respectfully to the other party's positions. You are not required to agree to something you don't think is right. 

Sometimes you and the other party may reach an agreement on some issues in mediation, but not all of them. It is a good idea to write out whatever agreements are made during the mediation, and you and the other party should sign them before leaving the mediation.  Then either party can ask the judge for a hearing on the issues that were not settled by your agreement. But remember, never sign anything that you don't agree with. You can ask the mediator questions if you don't understand something.

Can I stop the mediation if I don't feel comfortable?

Yes. You or the other party may stop mediation at any time and proceed with your issue in the court.

Am I giving up any rights agreeing to mediation?

No. You are not giving up any rights by agreeing to mediation.  By agreeing to participate in mediation, you are agreeing to try and reach an agreement with the other party about the contested issues.  If you end up reaching an agreement on some issues at the mediation and the judge adopts those agreements as the court’s decision, then you are giving up your right to hearing on those agreed issues.  But the issues that remain contested will be left for the judge to decide.

If you cannot reach an agreement on some issues at the mediation, then you still have the right to have the judge make a decision on those contested issues. 

What happens if there is no agreement?

If you find that you and the other party are unable to come to a resolution you can end the mediation process and file your documents with the court to get a hearing date. Or if you have already filed your paperwork and have a court date you can simply attend the hearing. 

Mediation and Domestic Violence

Is mediation appropriate when there is domestic violence?

Not usually. 

Domestic violence can be threats of abuse or emotional, psychological, verbal, and/or physical harm. 

Mediation is not appropriate when the parties have unequal bargaining power. When two parties do not have equal footing, mediation may not be fair. 

What if there is domestic violence and the court orders mediation?

You can ask the court to waive mediation. The court will not ask you to provide medical records or arrest records to prove there is domestic violence. The court only needs a "reason to suspect abuse." If you are a domestic violence survivor and you want to ask the court to waive mediation, you must file a written motion with the court. To get a Motion to Waive Mediation, contact Montana Legal Services Association.  

Keep in mind that if you want to try mediation, you can.  Even if there is domestic violence in your relationship, if you think it might be productive to go through mediation, you can try it.  

The Family Transition Project: Out of Court Divorce

Did you know you can come to an agreement about your divorce and parenting plan outside of the courts?

The Montana Family Transition Project is designed to provide low-income Montanans access to meditation. Mediation is a way to resolve Family Law issues without going to court. 

The Montana Family Transition Project offers you the chance to decide what’s next for your family, instead of going to court and having a judge decide. A trained professional mediator will help you and your co-parent talk through the issues and make a plan that will work for your lives. You can also get legal advice from an attorney and help calculating child support, all at no cost to you.

How do I qualify for the Montana Family Transition Project?

To qualify, you must:

  • Need a parenting plan or divorce;
  • have at least one child;
  • be planning to file in Montana OR have a case in Montana court; and
  • meet certain income requirements.

To learn more and apply, call 406-543-8343 ext. 207 or email mediate@mtlsa.org. An intake worker will assist you. Both parties will need to participate and apply, so please share this information with the other parent. 

Will it cost me anything?

If you are eligible for the program, the mediation and legal advice appointments will be free. You may have to pay a fee for any documents filed with the court but there are ways to ask the court if they can waive the fee for you.

Can I still do mediation if I have already filed my paperwork with the court?

Yes. You just need to let the intake staff know that you have an ongoing case. 

What happens during my mediation appointment through the Family Transition Project?

For mediation offered through the Family Transition Project:

  1. The mediator will meet with each person individually.  You will both will have the same opportunity to discuss the situation, what you would like to have happen, and any concerns you may have. 

  2. The mediator will then meet with both of you together. You will discuss your proposed plans with the goal of creating an agreement that works for both of you. This process may require more than one meeting.

  3. If you reach an agreement, the mediator will complete the paperwork and file it with the court. This paperwork will become your decree of dissolution (divorce) and/or parenting plan.

What if I need to speak with a lawyer?

If you and the other party qualify for the Family Transition Project, you will also be able to speak to an attorney. You can receive legal advice before, during, and after mediation. For more information you can review this informational flier on legal advice appointments through the Family Transition Project: 

I need more help.

Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil legal help to low-income people.  Contact us to see if you qualify:

  • Apply anytime online at MontanaLawHelp.org; or
  • Call our Helpline at 1-800-666-6899 (Helpline hours are limited).

What help can I find at MLSA?

  • Legal advice and representation;
  • Referrals to volunteer attorneys and other providers;
  • Self-help clinics and materials.
Find more resources using our interactive Legal Guide.
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