Divorce Mediation is becoming a popular alternative to involving lawyers as couples seek an amicable ending to a marriage. Mediation costs a fraction of the price of a lawyer and allows a couple to reasonably decide, for themselves, how to fairly and equitably part ways.
Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about Divorce Mediation:
Why should I use a mediator instead of a lawyer?
Why wouldn’t you use a mediator? Mediation services cost a fraction of what a lawyer charges. There are no drawn out legal battles or mounting lawyer fees. Mediation is cost effective, couple centered, confidential and a non-adversarial option. With mediation, the couple negotiates their own agreement and the time frame is flexible, taking as long as you need. In the alternative, for couples who are motivated, the process can be very short, saving both parties significant time, money and emotional distress. Overall, couples who choose mediation are more satisfied and comfortable with the process and results, spend less time and money and are less likely to dispute after the divorce.
What does the mediator do?
The mediator functions as a neutral, third party professional who is trained to facilitate conflict resolution. The mediator encourages compromise toward the goal of a fair and mutually agreeable divorce settlement. The mediator works for both parties and helps guide them through a confidential and voluntary negotiation. A mediator does not act as an attorney. The mediator works in collaboration to help couples part ways positively.
Why would a licensed therapist make a good mediator?
Therapists are professionals who are trained to decrease conflict. Lawyers, on the other hand, are trained to “fight”. Therapists are compassionate, outcome oriented, sensitive and empathic, qualities which allow them to be patient and provide the supportive environment necessary to work through difficult negotiations. A therapist as a mediator is not working as a marriage counselor or working to save the marriage. This is a very different role and should not be confused with mediation.
How does mediation work?
Mediation is a process, the couple determines how long the process takes, and all meetings are scheduled at your convenience. First, you and your spouse will meet with the mediator who will review a mediation contract and make sure you are clear about your rights. Then you will begin the process of mediating-coming to an agreement-coming to fair and equitable agreement- about the specific items that must be agreed upon to achieve the goal of an uncontested divorce. These topics include custody of children, child support, assets, debts, as well as others. Once each item is settled by terms agreed upon by both parites, the mediator will draft a Memorandum of Understanding. Both parties review this Memorandum and make corrections if needed. Once this is accomplished, you can have the Memorandum reviewed by an attorney or take it to the court for filing according to the rules of the individual court.
Do I still need a lawyer?
Couples are encouraged to have an attorney look over the Memorandum if it makes them more comfortable to do so. If you don’t have an attorney the mediator can provide a referral list you can use to pick one. Additionally, you can choose to have an attorney file the Memorandum for you in court and/or to represent you at the divorce hearing.
What if we can’t agree on all the issues?
Even some agreement of some of the issues is worth the time and money saved by the use of mediation. Often couples who are close to agreeing on all issues are motivated to work hard to agree on the remaining issues and a mediator can help support this positive outcome. It can happen that you might need the services of another professional (i.e. a financial planning, a realtor or a child’s counselor) to help support compromise and help you come to an agreement so that mediation can continue. Sometimes it also happens that an agreement cannot be reached and the court, who does not know you as well as the mediator does, will make a decision for you. Even if this happens, the mediator can memorialize what you do agree on and this agreement is valid for the items it includes.
How long does the mediation process take?
The length of mediation is really determined by the couple seeking mediation. If a couple is motivated, perhaps one to three sessions will be enough. If there are sticking points, perhaps five or more sessions will be needed. The point is, we do not rush mediation to get it over with as quickly as possible, we undertake the process to reach a fair and equitable divorce saving time, money and animosity. Couples can do their homework and move the process along by coming to mediation with as much agreed upon in advance as they can.
Once we have an agreement, can we change it?
If, after the Memorandum is filed and divorce is granted, you want to make changes, you can undertake a new mediation to agree upon the new changes. This would be treated as a new mediation process, and the same fee schedule would apply. In short, you can return to mediation anytime you want to.
How much does mediation cost?
The initial consultation is $150. The first meeting is $375, both parties must be present. Subsequent visits are $350 each and the Memorandum of Understanding is $450. The couple can split this in any way they agree to. Compare this to any lawyer’s fees to represent you in a divorce.
Who is not a good candidate for mediation?
Mediation is not appropriate if there is any physical abuse (domestic violence) between the spouses. Mediation is not appropriate if a child is being neglected or otherwise abused. Mediation should not be used if drugs or illegal activity is involved. Mediation should not be used if one party is being coerced, forced or otherwise intimidated. Mediation should not be used if one party is cognitively unable to understand the process or is otherwise impaired by mental, psychological or physical limitations.