Divorce mediation has grown to become one of the most popular options for settling divorces in the US. A properly conducted mediation process can allow both spouses to save time, money, and stress on what is likely to be one of the most challenging experiences of their lives. If you and your spouse have decided to divorce, it’s important for both of you to consider how you want to handle the process, and it behooves both of you to carefully evaluate the potential benefits of mediation.
Some divorcing spouses may assume that they fight too much for a collaborative divorce or mediation to work, but this is not necessarily true. It’s possible to configure your mediation experience to accommodate personal tensions between you and your spouse, so you can still take full advantage of the benefits of alternative dispute resolution without needing to spend much time face-to-face during the process. Ultimately, the quality of your mediation experience comes down to the mediator you choose to oversee the process.
What Is a Divorce Mediator?
The mediation process is a controlled private negotiation that involves both divorcing spouses, their respective attorneys, and a neutral mediator there to guide the process. Most of the divorce mediators working throughout the United States are divorce attorneys who offer mediation as a separate legal service or former attorneys who now focus solely on mediation services. Divorce mediators are experienced legal professionals who typically have long track records of handling family law matters.
Your divorce attorney is the ideal resource for finding a good mediator in your area. Both your attorney and your spouse’s attorney should collaborate to narrow down a list of mediators who not only possess the necessary experience and availability to handle your mediation but also hold no conflict of interest that benefits either of you. The mediator must be entirely neutral throughout the entire mediation process.
What Does the Mediator Do?
Once you and your spouse have agreed on a mediator and retained their services, the mediator will schedule your first session. This preliminary conference between you, your spouse, your attorneys, and the mediator will provide a general outline of how the mediator intends to handle your case. The mediator will schedule collaborative sessions with both spouses as well as one-on-one sessions with each spouse separately. Depending on how agreeable the divorcing spouses are, it’s possible to complete mediation in a very short time.
During each mediation session, the mediator’s job is to keep the conversation productive and focused. Mediators tend to address one issue at a time, but many divorce cases have intermingled issues that play off of one another. For example, property division and alimony are technically separate issues, but the couple’s property division determination is likely to influence their alimony determination in several ways. A good mediator will aim for a streamlined flow of negotiations that ensures the couple addresses every facet of their divorce effectively.
As the couple negotiates the terms of their divorce, they can rely on their respective divorce attorneys for legal guidance. The mediator will help them draft their divorce agreement taking their negotiated terms into account. Mediation concludes once the couple has fully addressed every aspect of their divorce or when they reach an impasse they cannot resolve through further mediation sessions.
What Can’t a Mediator Do?
There are some limitations to mediation. First, the mediator cannot offer any legal advice to either of the spouses. The mediator may clarify complex legal statutes that come into play, and they can answer general questions regarding state law as it pertains to the divorce. Many people who aim for mediation to handle their divorces mistakenly believe they do not need legal representation and they can rely on the mediator for legal advice. This is not the case, and it is essential to have a reliable and experienced divorce attorney on your side throughout the mediation process. However, it is possible to have your attorney only attend some of your mediation sessions if you wish to save some money on legal fees, but this is only advisable if you are confident in your ability to effectively negotiate the issue at hand.
Mediators also cannot address certain aspects of some divorce cases, particularly those pertaining to child custody and child support. State laws throughout the United States require the family court system to carefully evaluate any proposed custody agreement or parenting plan to ensure it suits the best interests of the children it will affect. If you and your spouse have children, you can draft a proposal for a parenting plan, but you cannot reach any firm conclusions regarding custody of your children or child support during mediation.
What Happens After Mediation?
Mediation concludes once the couple has addressed everything they can through alternative dispute resolution. The mediator will provide the couple with a draft of their negotiated divorce settlement and a list of any outstanding issues the couple must address through litigation. At this point, the couple then proceeds to family court. If you plan to pursue mediation, it is important to remember that most divorces often require both mediation and litigation, but the amount of time spent in litigation depends on how much the couple can successfully settle through mediation.
If they don’t have any remaining issues to address, the litigation process may be nothing more than a formal review of their divorce agreement before a judge approves and finalizes the divorce. Many people who choose mediation will need to address child custody and other issues before a judge can finalize their divorce orders.
Ultimately, mediation offers substantial benefits to virtually any divorcing couple. While it can be difficult to remain objective and focused on the practical issues your divorce entails, it’s crucial to evaluate the potential benefits that mediation can offer when it comes to settling your divorce as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you are unsure whether mediation is right for your situation, contact an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible to get the answers you need to your most pressing legal questions.