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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.
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.
Divorce mediation generally costs between $500 and $8,000, with a national average hovering at $1,500. Your cost will depend on several factors:
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.
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.
Here are a few of the most common issues that divorce mediation can help sort out:
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:
Divorce mediation can be a valuable alternative to a court trial, though it’s not without its limitations.
We asked four lawyers with a combined total of 85 years of legal experience to answer our most burning questions about the mediation process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Divorce mediation isn’t about assigning blame or proving wrongdoing. Instead, it’s generally best for couples who:
A divorce mediator plays a critical role in the process. Here are a few places you can find one:
Here are a few tips to try to make the mediation process as smooth and successful as possible:
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.||You and your spouse each hire an attorney to negotiate a settlement.|
|Who it’s best for||Couples 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 cost||Average of $225 per hour||Varies anywhere from $150 to over $500||Average of $270 per hour|
|Amount of time||1 to 10 sessions — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need resolved||1 to 10 days — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need resolved||1 to 10 sessions — varies greatly depending on the number of issues you need resolved|
|File for divorce online||Yes||Filing generally included||Yes|
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.
Award-winning lawyer, mediator and author with over 40 years in the legal industry.
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