Mediation has become a popular tool for divorcing couples, and below is some basic information about the process.
What is divorce mediation?
Mediation is a dispute resolution method that involves a neutral third party helping the two sides come to an agreement on their dispute. In a divorce, this means that the mediator will help the couple agree on things like property division and child custody. A mediator will not make decisions the way a judge would, instead the mediator works to facilitate decisions by the divorcing couple. The process will vary depending on each mediator, as they all have their own methods and can come from various backgrounds. Mediators can be trained as lawyers or psychologists, for example. Most mediations will follow the same basic process, though.
Mediation step one: Intake and orientation
The typical process begins with an “orientation session.” In this first session, the mediator will often allow the spouses to interact so the mediator can judge whether they are comfortable with the process. The mediator will explain his or her plan to the spouses and obtain basic information about the dispute. This is often followed up by at least one private session where the mediator will meet one-on-one with each spouse to determine their primary goals and sticking points for future agreement. Many mediators will ask the spouses to privately complete questionnaires and financial documents that provide more information about the dispute as well.
Mediation step two: Mediation working sessions
The bulk of the mediation will be handled in “working sessions” where both spouses are present. A mediator will often get started by settling the easiest questions first. The mediation will highlight particular points of dispute and then begin to work towards agreement. There is some deal making to this process and the mediator will utilize the information he or she has gathered about the couple. For example, if the mediator knows the wife wants to stay in the house and the husband really wants the expensive car, then the mediator may steer the divorcing couple towards an agreement that meets both those desires.
The length of this process can vary widely. For many divorcing couples the details can be hammered out in a session or two. For more complex situations involving large assets or children (or both) many sessions may be necessary. The couple may also occasionally put the process on hold to consult with attorneys or other professionals and consider their options. This outside advice can be important because the mediator is usually the only person in the room with the spouses during a mediation. Throughout the process the mediator will seek to keep an open dialog between the spouses.
Mediation step three: Finalize the agreement
The ultimate goal of the mediation is a settlement that fully resolves all the issues necessary for the divorce. The mediator will write up this final agreement and then often times a lawyer for each spouse will review the agreement to make sure it is fair. When both sides are fully in agreement, either the mediator or a lawyer will format the agreement to meet the local court rules and then seek approval from a judge. Once approved by a judge, the mediated agreement is just as binding as any litigated result.
Why choose divorce mediation?
Couples that are sure they want to divorce and believe they can amicably resolve their differences should consider divorce mediation. This is especially true for a simple divorce that does not involve unwinding complex assets.
Divorce mediation: Advantages
Mediation can be less costly than litigation, because a couple will pay one mediator instead of two lawyers. It can be faster, because a mediator typically has a more flexible schedule than a court. Mediation also requires less public disclosure than courtroom action. It is also less adversarial, and that can lead to a better post-divorce relationship that can benefit the children.
How long does mediation take and what does it cost?
Mediation can be much faster than litigation, 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.