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Keywords:

  •  mediation;
  • divorce;
  • custody;
  • research

Mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) grew rapidly in the last few decades as a result of high divorce rates, frequent conflicts between parting parents, the resulting administrative burden on courts, and especially concerns about damaging effects on children and postdivorce family relationships. This article focuses on our longitudinal research involving randomized trials of mediation and adversary settlement to support the conclusions that mediation can: (1) settle a large percentage of cases otherwise headed for court; (2) possibly speed settlement, save money, and increase compliance with agreements; (3) clearly increase party satisfaction; and (4) most importantly, lead to remarkably improved relationships between nonresidential parents and children, as well as between divorced parents—even twelve years after dispute settlement. The key “active ingredients” of mediation are likely to include: (1) the call for parental cooperation over the long run of co-parenting beyond the crisis of separation, (2) the opportunity to address underlying emotional issues (albeit briefly), (3) helping parents to establish a businesslike relationship, and (4) the avoidance of divisive negotiations at a critical time for family relationships. We call for more research on mediation and other forms of ADR, as well as a renewal of the excitement and optimism of the “first generation” of mediators, qualities that are “active ingredients” in any successful social or psychological intervention.