Mediation has many benefits over divorce in the litigation context. Mediation is often cheaper, less contentious, and faster. Many people are unfamiliar with the practice, though, so below we answer some commonly asked questions.
1. What does a divorce mediator do?
A family law mediator is a neutral third party that will attempt to help the two divorcing spouses reach an agreement. The mediator does not make decisions the way a judge would. Mediators will typically meet privately with each spouse to get an understanding of their needs and then in joint sessions will make sure that each spouse is given time to fully express his or her desires. The mediator will explain legal options to each side, and will also consider agreements that incorporate terms a judge may not usually consider.
2. How does divorce mediation work?
The typical process begins with an “orientation session.” In this first session, the mediator will often allow the spouses to interact so that the mediator can judge whether they are comfortable with the mediation. The mediator will explain the process to the spouses and obtain basic information about the dispute. Many mediators will ask the spouses to privately complete questionnaires and financial documents that provide more information about the dispute as well.
After that, the mediator will begin “working sessions.” The mediator will use these working sessions to highlight particular points of dispute and then begin to work towards agreement on them. For example, the first working session might focus on a schedule for child visitation and the next working session might focus on splitting their joint property.
Once the spouses have come to a consensus on all the issues, the mediator will write up a final agreement that each spouse can review. Spouses may hire an attorney to review the final agreement. The agreement is then filed in court, as the court must still grant the divorce.
3. How do divorce court documents get filed?
It depends on the situation. Often, the mediator is a lawyer who can prepare and file the agreement in court. In other situations, the spouses will need to take their agreement to court or hire an attorney to do it for them. Most mediators can recommend attorneys for the job.
4. How long does mediation take and what does it cost?
Many states require a separation period of the spouses living apart before they can be divorced, and mediation typically cannot speed up that process. Six months is a common separation period. Mediation can be much faster than litigation, though, because the issues are settled in a mediator’s office and the court merely signs off on the final agreement. There is no costly courtroom battle in mediation because the spouses are working together with a mediator instead of having two lawyers working against each other. Fees will vary by location, but typically a mediation will cost 40% to 60% less than divorce litigation.
5. Will mediation protect my rights?
Mediation is not necessarily the best forum for a contentious fight over a large amount of property. That said, a skilled mediator will prevent a hard-charging spouse from taking advantage of a more mild-mannered spouse.