Law Office of Keith A. Singer, PLLC (520) 795-1800
Mr. Singer’s background and experience involves mostly high-conflict family law and juvenile law cases in the Pima County Superior Courts. He has handled numerous cases involving protective orders, business law, real property, serious personal injuries, and juvenile and adult criminal law. Many of Mr. Singer’s cases have resulted in trial and many have been settled. Like most experienced attorneys, Mr. Singer prefers to resolve cases by settlement when possible. However, he has always maintained an active trial practice. The majority of his practice at present remains traditional, one party representation in contested family law matters. About half of Mr. Singer’s contested cases settle and the rest require trial to varying degrees.
Mr. Singer is both a trial lawyer and a mediator. The best mediators in Mr. Singer’s opinion are trial lawyers because only an experienced trial lawyer can advise parties, based on real experience, what might happen at trial, and thus help them avoid trial themselves. Similarly, a trial lawyer who does not always consider the possibility of settlement may cause unnecessary expense and conflict and protract the litigation unnecessarily. It is possible to “win” at trial and still lose the case. Mr. Singer’s philosophy is to work towards settlements when possible and if there is no other choice than trial, fight to win. Mr. Singer believes being a trial lawyer makes him a better mediator and being a mediator makes him a better trial lawyer.
Sometimes it is obvious from the start that a case is going to require litigation and mediation is not a possibility. If one party refuses to mediate or refuses to cooperate in any fashion, or is actively hostile, an experienced and effective trial lawyer is needed. Mr. Singer has served as both litigator and mediator and he is quite comfortable in both high conflict and no-conflict situations.
Mediation allows people involved in family law proceedings to take control of planning their own lives and allows them a peaceful and non-adversarial environment in which to make good decisions about their future. It is especially beneficial for parents, who though separating, will need to continue co-parenting well into the future. The decision-making process learned in mediation can serve as a model for future communications. Also, mediated settlements have a consistently higher compliance rate because the parties have created their own agreement.
A family law mediator is a neutral party who helps couples identify and resolve the legal and logistical issues involved in family law proceedings. The mediator facilitates the communication between the parties by making sure each party is given an uninterrupted time to speak, asking a party to restate or explain a point when necessary, and asking questions to make communication clear. The mediator also provides information about the legal system, how lawyers or judges may view issues, and what alternatives there are for solving problems. When necessary, the mediator will refer the couple to third party experts for services such as appraisals.
The couple and the mediator meet in a series of mediation sessions, usually 1 – 3 hours long. During the course of those sessions the couple and the mediator discuss the process and general questions are answered (i.e. what is custody or parenting time, how is child support calculated, what is considered community property) identify the issues needed to be discussed and the order in which they will be discussed, then decide what information needs to be gathered and shared. Then the couple, with the assistance of the mediator, gather all relevant financial data, or if necessary, the opinions of experts such as appraisers or accountants. Discussions revolve around how to compromise on the various issues in order to meet the needs of both parties and the children. The mediator assists by providing information about the court system and common ways family law issues are resolved. When an agreement has been reached on all issues, the attorney/mediator can draft the agreement and any necessary court documents for review by each of the parties and their respective independent attorneys.
If the mediator is an attorney, the attorney can assist the parties in filing all papers with the court. The parties may also prepare the court paperwork themselves, go to a “document preparer,” or have one or the other of their independent attorneys prepare the final documents.
It is not a requirement for family law mediation that each party have a separate and independent attorney. Many people handle their family law matters by themselves or engage in mediation without an attorney representing them. Independent counsel is recommended, at least before making any final decisions and to review any final documents, to ensure peace of mind and the highest degree of enforceability.
No, court appearances are not required of either party.
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least two to five two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over a month or two. Arizona law requires a 60 day waiting period in divorces and legal separations between the time the initial documents are filed with the court and accepted by the parties and the time final orders are issued. More complex cases can take longer, but not usually. The mediation proceeds at a pace set by the parties. Sessions can take place as often as the parties desire. It is even possible in some cases to complete a family law mediation in one weekend so that only the documents need be finalized.
Many good family law lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $2,500 and $5,000 and then bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases. The cost of mediation from beginning to end can be much less than the combined attorneys' fees would be if the parties hired separate lawyers to handle the family law case from start to finish. Typical family law cases which result in trial can run two to ten times higher than the cost of a mediated outcome. Also, keep in mind that “cost” not only means dollars spent but the emotional cost to the parties and their children who go through litigated family law proceedings. This emotional cost is profoundly reduced by the mediation process.
Once an agreement has been signed and the appropriate legal documents are prepared and filed with the court, the settlement is enforceable as a judgment. Enforceability is further strengthened when the final documents are reviewed and approved by independent counsel for each party.
No case is too complicated to be settled using mediation. Frequently, the parties in very complicated mediations consult with outside experts such as accountants, appraisers, financial planners, and independent attorneys during the process. Most family law mediations do not require outside experts.
What happens in mediation is confidential as settlement negotiations. Such communications are entitled to protection under Arizona law and accepted practice.
It is fairly rare to agree on all but one or two issues, but even if that is the case mediation is seldom wasted. An agreement can be prepared on all settled issues and the parties can either litigate the remaining issues or take further time to think about them and come back to mediation.
Although many couples going through mediation are amicable and work well together, there are also many couples who are very emotional about the family law issues and do not think they can negotiate face to face. A quality mediator will effectively assist couples who have high emotions but who still would like to work things out peacefully. People do calm down and become effective mediation participants when they see that the process can work without adding to the high emotional and financial cost of divorce. Mr. Singer has a strong background in high conflict family law litigation and is quite capable to ensure that mediations take place in a calm, respectful, positive, professional, and productive manner.
With Mr. Singer as mediator, he will not allow one party to overpower the other in mediation. If one of the parties is unable to be effective during this process, the mediator will stop the mediation. However, many people who considered themselves to be the “weaker” of the two spouses have been quite effective in mediation. As an unsophisticated spouse of a very powerful business executive once said, “I have the power to say no, and my spouse better listen or we’ll wind up in court.”