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:
Custody and parenting plan
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shaw Divorce & Family Law LLC
What should couples consider when choosing a mediator?
To the extent that mediation can be considered a “battle,” that battle is often won or lost long before it has begun with the selection of a mediator. Generally, both parties are represented by independent counsel who will be either directly participating in mediation sessions or providing review and guidance from the sidelines.
Neither attorney should be permitted to conduct mediation on “home turf.” Attorneys often develop repeat customer relationships with mediators. Whether consciously or subconsciously, a mediator is going to be reluctant to heavily criticize or contradict an attorney who potentially refers him or her tens of thousands of dollars in business per year.
See the problem? If possible, select a mediator that is outside of the primary county in which either spouse’s attorney practices. Additionally, before signing the mediation agreement, request a written disclosure of all cases involving the mediator and either spouse’s attorney.
CEO and co-owner
New Jersey Divorce Solutions
How can couples speed up the mediation process?
First, know what you want and prepare for mediation ahead of time. Don’t rely on the mediator to tell you what you want or what you should ask for. That is not his or her role. A mediator’s role is to be an impartial third party to facilitate a dialogue and help you reach an agreement. You don’t want to just reach an agreement, you want to reach a fair agreement.
You should know if there are certain things that are deal breakers for you (e.g. staying in the house, getting half of the pension, or 50/50 custody). Remember, you are not going to get everything you want. You will only get some of what you want, so figure out what parts you really need to walk away with so you know where you can compromise more.
Second, know what you are entitled to. This does require you to consult with an attorney. Don’t just shop around for a free consultation. (You get what you pay for.) Meet with an attorney and spend a few hours reviewing your finances, discussing your circumstances and let them advise what is a likely (and fair) result in your situation.
That way when you get to mediation, you will know whether your spouse’s offer (or your mediator’s suggestions) are in an appropriate range. You don’t want to give away too much, but you also don’t want to demand too much, making settlement impossible.
Divorce lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and coach
The Law Offices of Karen A. Covy, PC
What should couples do before they begin mediation?
Talk to a divorce lawyer before you mediate anything so that you have a clear idea of what your best (and worst!) outcomes could be if your mediation fails.
Knowing your best- and worst-case scenarios help you reality-test your expectations and lets you bookend your risk. For example, if you want something that you would never get if you went to court, that will change the way you negotiate with your spouse. On the other hand, if what your spouse is offering to give you is way less than you would get in court, that makes it easier for you to reject an unreasonably low offer.
The problem with divorce is that it’s often counter-intuitive. If you haven’t spoken to a lawyer in advance, then you can’t be sure that what you want is both reasonable and fair. Many times people think that what they’re asking for makes sense. But then later they discover that they either asked for way too much (so their mediation failed) or they asked for way too little (and cheated themselves in the process.)
The only way to know what your best- and worst-case scenarios are is to talk to a knowledgeable divorce lawyer in your area.
Virginia Maroulakos Rucinski
Divorce and family lawyer
Mattleman, Weinroth & Miller, P.C.
What documents should couples bring along to mediation?
Preparing the following documents before you begin the mediation process will help to alleviate stress and allow you to create a plan to get any documents that you need before any deadline is given. These documents are not needed for your introduction appointment, but will be very useful in the near future.
Income information. Recent pay stubs, last tax return, last W-2s, 1099s, business tax returns (if self-employed).
Asset information. Copies of most recent statements and a list of assets.
Debt information. Copies of most recent statements and a list of debts.
Insurance information. You will need this when filing with the court. During mediation, questions often come up regarding life insurance, health insurance and the cost to cover children, auto insurance, etc. It’s helpful to have this information on hand.
Employment-based benefits. This includes any retirement plans, savings plans, or other benefits.
Expenses and budget information. This includes your monthly living expenses.
Other financial documents you feel may be important to review. This might include special 529 savings plans set up for your kids or a prenuptial agreement.
Going through a divorce or separation is a very difficult time in your life. Do the best you can. Mediation can progress at your pace.
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:
What it is
You 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.
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.
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.
Frequently asked questions
If you can’t reach an agreement, you might consider arbitration, hiring a lawyer to negotiate for you (collaborative divorce) or settling the case in court.
Both you and your spouse should agree on a mediator.
Yes. Divorce mediation is a process that produces a legally binding divorce agreement — but only after the paperwork is signed and executed with the courts. Since mediators aren’t judges, they can’t make binding decisions themselves, nor can they force you to reach a settlement.
Kimberly Ellis is a writer at Finder. She hails from New York City with a BA from Queens College and a New York State teaching certificate. After teaching in both public and private schools, Kimberly decided to take the world by storm and dive into the media industry — where she covers everything from home loans and investing to K–12 education and shopping. She’s also an aspiring polyglot, always in a book and forever on the hunt for the perfect classic red lipstick.
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