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What is divorce mediation?

A cheaper alternative to going to court that helps couples resolve issues on their own.

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Divorce mediation lets you and your spouse stay in control of your agreement terms rather than relying on a judge or the courts. It’s often less expensive than hiring divorce attorneys and keeps your divorce off the public record.

But mediators can’t take sides or provide any legal advice. And it won’t be much help if you and your spouse aren’t willing to compromise.

What is divorce mediation?

Divorce mediation is a confidential meeting that uses a neutral third-party mediator to help you and your spouse negotiate a settlement. The mediator doesn’t make decisions for you or dole out legal advice.

Instead, they help facilitate the conversation so you and your spouse can better resolve issues together. You should walk out of mediation with a complete divorce settlement for an uncontested divorce.

How much does divorce mediation cost?

Divorce mediation generally costs between $500 and $8,000, with a national average hovering at $1,500. Your cost will depend on several factors:

  • Mediator’s rate. Mediators charge between $100 and $300 per hour on average, or a flat day-rate. They may also add a setup fee for the first consultation meeting.
  • Number of sessions. The clock keeps running regardless of the number of issues you need to resolve and the longer it takes to reach an agreement.
  • Additional costs. The mediator may charge extra fees, like a session cancellation fee or a fee if you need a written record of each session.

How long does divorce mediation take?

One divorce mediation session usually lasts about two hours. Depending on how many issues you have, your divorce mediation process might require multiple sessions spread out over several weeks or months.

Do I need to hire a lawyer during mediation?

No, you don’t need an attorney for mediation. In fact, mediators may prefer lawyers not be present during sessions because they can create a more adversarial environment that may hinder positive communication.

But you might consider hiring a lawyer if your case involves substantial property or other legal matters to make sure you’re protected. And it might be a good idea to have an attorney review the settlement terms during or after mediation.

What issues can divorce mediation resolve?

Here are a few of the most common issues that divorce mediation can help sort out:

  • Alimony
  • Child support
  • Custody and parenting plan
  • Debt division
  • Property division, including real estate and personal property

How does the divorce mediation process work?

The mediation process will be smoother if you and your spouse have all of your documents in order and are willing to compromise. Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Prepare your documents. Organize all of your paperwork, including statements for your bank accounts, retirement accounts, mortgages and life insurance policies. Not having all of your records can delay the mediation process.
  2. Attend your first mediation session. You and your spouse list all the issues that need to be resolved. The mediator may also ask questions to get background information and facts of the case.
  3. Continue meeting to negotiate the issues. The mediator helps keep the conversation on track and may present information about the court system or context for how issues are commonly settled.
  4. Finalize settlement agreement. Once everything is resolved, the mediator drafts the divorce agreement.

Pros and cons of divorce mediation

Divorce mediation can be a valuable alternative to a court trial, though it’s not without its limitations.

  • Less expensive. Mediation is generally more cost-effective than a long, drawn-out trial. After mediation, you can finish the divorce process online and potentially skip the court hearing altogether.
  • Confidential. Divorce hearings are public record, whereas mediation is a private meeting.
  • Negotiated agreement. The divorcing couple comes to a resolution together, rather than a court-imposed settlement.
  • You and your spouse control the process. The mediator only serves to facilitate the session, but you ultimately control what happens.
  • Higher compliance rate. Couples generally follow the terms of the divorce agreement more than a traditional lawsuit because they participate in the decision making.
  • No legal counsel. Even though the mediator may be a lawyer or a former judge, they can’t give you or your spouse any legal advice. You may still need to hire a lawyer for legal counsel.
  • Doesn’t include filing and fees. You’ll still need to submit your divorce settlement agreement to the county clerk and pay a separate filing fee — on top of your mediation costs.
  • May not be a good solution for everyone. Mediation requires that the divorcing couple be willing to compromise and come to an agreement. And it may not be safe or appropriate for spouses with a history or fear of domestic violence.

Ask a lawyer: 4 experts share advice for a smooth mediation

We asked four lawyers with a combined total of 85 years of legal experience to answer our most burning questions about the mediation process.

Andrew Shaw
  • Andrew Shaw
  • Managing attorney
  • Shaw Divorce & Family Law LLC
Christina Previte
  • Christina Previte
  • CEO and co-owner
  • New Jersey Divorce Solutions
Karen Covy
  • Karen Covy
  • Divorce lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and coach
  • The Law Offices of Karen A. Covy, PC
Virginia Maroulakos Rucinski
  • Virginia Maroulakos Rucinski
  • Divorce and family lawyer
  • Mattleman, Weinroth & Miller, P.C.

Is divorce mediation right for me?

Divorce mediation isn’t about assigning blame or proving wrongdoing. Instead, it’s generally best for couples who:

  • Want to keep divorce costs low
  • Have children and want to find a solution that works for everyone
  • Want to maintain a working relationship after the divorce
  • Want to avoid a public court hearing
  • Are willing to compromise

Where can I find a divorce mediator?

A divorce mediator plays a critical role in the process. Here are a few places you can find one:

  • Local legal aid office
  • Local bar association
  • Local community mediation center
  • National mediation organizations, including the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the American Arbitration Association and the Association for Conflict Resolution

How to prepare for divorce mediation

Here are a few tips to try to make the mediation process as smooth and successful as possible:

  • Research before you hire. Some mediators specialize in child custody mediation or focus on resolving financial disputes. You and your spouse should agree on one specially-trained or certified mediator that you both feel comfortable with.
  • Gather your documents. Make the most of your mediation session by having all of the records you need, including your assets, income sources, debts and expenses.
  • Set goals. Since each session is a negotiation, know what issues you won’t budge on and which areas where you’re more flexible.
  • Compromise. Both you and your spouse should be ready to have a meaningful conversation in each session. Keep in mind that mediation is not about winning or punishing your ex, but about finding a solution that best suits everyone.

Mediation vs. arbitration vs. collaborative divorce: What’s the difference?

Here’s how the three most common alternatives to litigation break down:

MediationArbitrationCollaborative divorce
What it isYou and your spouse negotiate the terms of your divorce with the help of a mediator.An arbitrator hears both sides and delivers a final decision on the terms of your divorce.You and your spouse each hire an attorney to negotiate a settlement.
Who it’s best forCouples with a good working relationship who want to keep divorce costs low.Couples who need a third party to resolve specific issues and want to maintain some privacy.Couples who can’t communicate effectively with one another, but want to avoid a public court hearing.
Estimated costAverage of $225 per hourVaries anywhere from $150 to over $500Average of $270 per hour
Amount of time1 to 10 sessions — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need resolved1 to 10 days — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need resolved1 to 10 sessions — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need resolved
Lawyer requiredNoNoYes
File for divorce onlineYesFiling generally includedYes

How to file for divorce online

Compare online divorce services to use after mediation

While all online divorce companies require you to be going through an uncontested divorce to use its services, you can still go the online route if you resolve all of your issues and negotiate a divorce agreement with your spouse through mediation first.

Name Product Cost Includes filing papers with court? File without spouse Legal assistance available Customer service
3 Step Divorce
$299 - $336
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
No
Phone, Email
File within one business day of your start date with 3StepDivorce and qualify for a $50 cash rebate. Payment plans available.
LegalZoom online divorce
$499
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
Yes
Phone, Email, Live chat
File for an uncontested divorce online or find legal resources to help guide you through the divorce process.
OnlineDivorce.com
$139
No - you must file and pay court fees
Yes
No
Phone, Email
Ready-to-file divorce forms for one flat fee. Step-by-step directions to help simplify uncontested divorces.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

In many cases, you can keep your divorce case out of the court system by opting for divorce mediation. It can be cheaper and faster than litigation if you and your spouse can communicate well and are willing to compromise.

After you walk out of mediation with a divorce settlement, you’ll still need to fill out a few more legal forms and file all the paperwork with the courts. Check out our step-by-step divorce filing guide to learn more.

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