How Does Divorce Mediation Work?
Divorce mediation is an option that couples have who want to forego the intensive hearings and schedules of the divorce court. If you and your partner are largely in agreement about the division of property and custody, or if you have very few assets, mediation may be ideal for your situation. Mediation basically employs a professional mediator to meet with the two of you and/or your attorneys to hammer out the details of your divorce and separation. After the terms are agreeable to both parties, it is submitted to the court for approval.
The Mediation Process
Mediation is often less time-consuming than attending multiple court hearings in a traditional divorce court. When you decide to file for divorce, the court can often give you references for a professional mediator that can help you during the process. If you choose not to use a mediator, you will have to request a court hearing to begin the lengthy legal process.
During mediation, the process consists of:
- Hiring your own attorney
- Letting your attorney know privately what you hope to accomplish
- Holding a meeting with you, your attorney, your spouse and his/her attorney
- Compromising on all aspects of property division and child custody, possibly with the aid of a professional mediator or child custody specialist
- Signing a “no court” agreement, which forces both attorneys to withdraw if the case does go to court in the future
- Filing your divorce papers and settlement agreement with the family court
Oftentimes, another bonus to choosing mediation is that the divorce proceedings are out of the public eye. If you choose to go to divorce court, all statements and hearings become public record, and will most likely be open to the public to attend. If you and your spouse choose to keep your finances, property and custody disputes private, then mediation is the ideal choice.
Collaborative Divorce Process
The collaborative divorce process works by removing disputes and problem solving during negotiations, rather than fighting with your spouse in a courtroom setting. Mediation and negotiating are used during a collaborative divorce process to settle these disputes. In some states, a divorce court will make this mandatory before allowing a couple to litigate in court. However, it does take two willing parties for it to work. Collaborating may be a lost cause if one of you is reluctant to agree to anything.
The benefits of a collaborative divorce process include:
- Saving money
- Avoiding a formal setting
- Exchanging information in an open and honest forum
- Saving time
- Having more input on how disputes are settled
- Negotiating terms that work for both parties
Collaborative divorce also keeps a judge from having to make decisions on matters at hand, which is what will happen if you cannot agree on terms. This takes the decision-making power away from the two of you and gives it to the court to determine.
Role of Your Attorney
Your attorney’s role in mediation is to help you outline your wishes for the division of property and custody, and present these to your spouse and their attorney. When meeting with them, your attorney will also aid in coming to a mutually beneficial agreement on each point discussed.
Even with mediation, you need to hire a divorce attorney who can look out for your best interests. There may be things involved with your separation that even you haven’t thought of, or property and rights that you may have claim to that your attorney will be knowledgeable about.
Agreements and Negotiations
Your chosen mediator is trained to oversee discussions and proposals and help you to meet a common ground on a variety of matters. When you get stuck, they will help to brainstorm ways to come to a mutually-beneficial agreement.
Negotiations often include the following:
- Division of real property and financial assets
- Child custody
- Child support and alimony payments
- Division of retirement assets and any benefits, such as health and life insurance
Meetings may happen once or multiple times, over weeks or months, depending upon what you and your spouse choose and how many issues are at hand. If you come to a point where you simply cannot agree on something, the mediator will often refer you to divorce court to schedule a hearing with a judge.
Mediation costs can be far less expensive than divorce court costs, as your attorney will likely have fewer billable hours in the matter. You and your spouse will likely split any costs associated with a professional mediator, should you need one.
If you decide to go to divorce court, there can be several court hearings that you must appear at and pay court fees as well. Mediation can save you these costs. With no end in sight and every motion causing a new hearing, traditional divorce court could cause your divorce to take much longer than actually necessary, and a higher attorney bill when they are spending more hours in court defending your case.
Also, consider the experience of your mediator will affect their cost. However, even a well-seasoned mediator who costs more may be worth it if it saves you days or even months of stress by avoiding multiple court appearances.
How to Find a Mediator
Your attorney may work regularly with a professional mediator they can recommend, or you may find a professional in your area through regular business listings. You may also ask the local courts if they have any recommendations of where to find one in your area.
When searching for a mediator, remember to follow these steps:
- Determine what you want to happen in mediation
- Obtain a list of suggested mediators and local listings
- Review the mediator’s professional qualifications
- Interview the potential mediators
- Evaluate the information from interviews and choose the best candidate
Much like a job interview, you must ensure the mediator you hire will be impartial and negotiate terms to make both parties happy. These professionals should be able to propose options in significantly polarizing issues, such as child custody and support payments.