There are 3 different kinds of mediation you may hear about in the family law court:
1. DSO: (Free) Daily Settlement Officers are volunteer lawyers who come to the courthouse and your judge may send you to that person to try to settle your case on the day of your hearing after one or both of you have already filed court papers potentially filled with allegations about the other spouse.
2. Conciliation Court: (Free) Mandatory mediation at the courthouse by a therapist which is required before the judge can talk to you about a request that either parent has made regarding custody or visitation. These mediators are only allowed to help with custody and visitation (and not child support or any other issues).
3. Private Mediation: (Costs vary) At any time before or during your child custody, legal separation or divorce matter, couples can hire one neutral lawyer (or a non-lawyer) to help resolve all of the issues and concerns, including spousal support, property division, child custody and child support. From our experience, a mediated settlement prior to ever asking for a hearing date almost always costs a fraction of the cost of each spouse hiring an attorney to make court appearances for temporary orders and a trial. In fact, in many cases an entire mediation may cost the same as the initial retainer fee for one single court attorney.