Researchers have conducted dozens of studies since family mediation first became commonplace in the 1980s. Enough data has been collected and enough analysis conducted to begin drawing clear conclusions about whether mediation works. Along several key axes, the answers are encouraging.
Mediation produces full agreement in some 70 to 80 percent of cases. This is the case whether the mediation is court-referred or privately,, whether mediation is voluntary or mandatory, and whether the mediating couples had a history of domestic violence or intense marital conflict.
Overall Client Satisfaction
Couples who mediate the issues of their divorce are significantly more likely to be satisfied with the experience of their divorce when compared with couples who have finished an adversarial divorce. At final divorce, according to one study, 69 percent of mediation respondents were somewhat to very satisfied, compared with less than half of adversarial men and women.
On most issues, such as the perceived skill level of the professional, the creativity of the professional, the effectiveness of the professional in helping clients deal with anger, the professional's success avoiding imposing his or her viewpoint on the client, impact on the spousal relationship, satisfaction with the property settlement, satisfaction with arrangements around spousal support, satisfaction with parenting schedules and arrangements, and understanding children's needs and issues, mediating couples reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction.
Satisfaction Among Women
In general, the difference in the levels of satisfaction with mediation among men and women is not statistically significant. This is in contrast to adversarial divorce, where men are significantly more dissatisfied than women with the process and outcome.
There has been some discussion of findings that women are disadvantaged in mediation, but that initial research has been discredited. On the whole, women in mediation express greater satisfaction with both process and outcomes than do their litigation counterparts.
Effect on Terms of Agreement
In general, mediated agreements tend to be more comprehensive than settlements reached either voluntarily or involuntarily in adversarial court. In general, mediation results in more shared parenting agreements compared to adversarial processes, but not necessarily a different parenting schedule. Researchers have not noted a statistical difference in the treatment of child support payments, although mediating fathers are more likely to agree to pay for "extras" for their children and are more likely to agree to help with college/university expenses.
Cost in Time and Money
Mediating couples tend to resolve the issues in their divorce in substantially less time than that taken by their counterparts in litigation. They also tend to spend significantly less money. In one study, couples in the adversarial sample reported spending 134% more (more than twice as much) for their divorces than those in the mediation sample. Most reports tend to find less dramatic differences, however, in the 30-40% range.
Compliance and Relitigation
Researchers generally report higher rates of compliance with mediated agreements, when compared to agreements reached in the adversarial process. This includes parenting schedules, payment of child support and spousal support, and completing the final division of property. Relitigation rates are low in general among mediated samples and are lower than in adversarial samples.