Divorce is notoriously difficult. Even if a couple mutually agrees to end their marriage, the legal process is time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. This is especially true when a divorcing couple takes their case to court. Divorce litigation can take months or even years before the couple has their divorce order in hand, and the process may not unfold the way either of them originally envisioned. The stress of divorce litigation is the main reason so many couples divorcing in the United States opt for alternative dispute resolution instead of traditional divorce proceedings. This option provides an expedited, less-stressful path to divorce.
If you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage, it does not matter what led the two of you to this decision or what personal issues remain unresolved between you. Divorce mediation will always offer a better path to divorce than litigation, and both of you will save a tremendous amount of time and money if you take full advantage of this form of alternative dispute resolution.
How Do I Start Divorce Mediation?
Think of divorce mediation as the settlement negotiation process in a civil lawsuit. The parties involved meet privately to discuss mutually agreeable terms to resolve their dispute. In divorce mediation, this process unfolds under the guidance of a neutral mediator, usually a legal professional who has solid experience handling divorce proceedings. The mediator’s job is to guide the divorcing couple’s negotiations and help them draft their divorce agreement in the most expeditious manner possible.
The divorce process begins when one spouse files a divorce petition with the local family court. At this point, the divorcing spouses may proceed with litigation and ask the court to set a preliminary hearing date, or they may initiate alternative dispute resolution. If you want to take advantage of divorce mediation, you should consult your attorney and start looking for a mediator who is agreeable to both you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
Many family law attorneys offer mediation services, and you can find many divorce mediators who solely handle mediations. The only actual prerequisites to divorce mediation are that both you and your spouse must agree to mediation, and you both must approve of the mediator.
What Happens in Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a series of negotiations. Divorcing spouses may have their respective attorneys with them for some or all sessions. The process begins with each spouse making their preferences for their divorce order clear, and then the mediator will begin guiding negotiations for each line item their divorce entails. Typically, divorce mediation will pertain primarily to property division and spousal support. If the couple has children, they can negotiate a parenting plan, but they must submit their proposal to a family court judge for approval. The state has a legal duty to ensure that all custody and support agreements suit the best interests of the children they affect.
Your chosen mediator will likely supervise negotiations between you and your spouse and conduct one-on-one sessions with each party. If you and your spouse cannot stand being in the same room with one another and find it challenging to have a productive negotiation, it’s entirely possible to take full advantage of mediation while having your attorneys relay communications between the two of you. This will take longer but reduce the overall stress of the situation.
What If We Can’t Settle Everything in Mediation?
If you have any concerns about being unable to address every element of your divorce in mediation, don’t worry too much. The reality is that it is very rare for a couple to undergo divorce mediation and reach firm conclusions on every aspect of their divorce. It’s very likely that you and your spouse will need to complete some measure of divorce litigation following mediation, especially if you have children.
When it comes to child custody and child support, you and your spouse can negotiate a proposal for your allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, but it will require review and approval from a family court judge in your state. The family court system must preserve the best interests of all children affected by divorce. As long as the proposal you develop is reasonable and serves the best interests of your children, it’s likely that a judge will accept it with minimal required changes.
It is also possible for other issues aside from child custody and support to require further legal review beyond mediation. For example, if you and your spouse control significant net worth and own complex assets, you may require input from a financial professional when it comes to determining how these factors play into your divorce proceedings. For example, if you suspect that your spouse is hiding assets, you and your attorney may consult a forensic accountant to conduct a thorough review of your financial records, and you will likely need to litigate this aspect of your divorce.
It is best to try and take full advantage of divorce mediation before proceeding to litigation. No matter what your divorce entails, it is possible to streamline the divorce process significantly as long as you and your spouse are willing to compromise. When you encounter any legal roadblock you cannot solve through mediation, you can simply table this issue and work through the remainder of your mediation proceedings and then settle any lingering issues through a more condensed litigation process.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Divorce Mediation?
The short answer is yes; you need legal representation if you intend to pursue any type of alternative dispute resolution. While it is technically possible to act as your own counsel in divorce proceedings, doing so is a very unwise choice, especially if your spouse has hired an attorney. You cannot count on the mediator to provide you with any legal advice. Their job is to guide negotiations, clarify legal statutes, and help the divorcing couple draft their divorce order. They cannot provide any specific legal advice to either spouse or hold any conflicts of interest that favor either spouse.
If you are planning to divorce and want to take full advantage of all the benefits of mediation, contact an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible to learn more about the process and what you can expect in your mediation sessions.