Divorce mediation is an option that works well for some couples. Mediation is chosen instead of a court trial, and this may save you money and it also may give you and your spouse more control over the process. Mediation is an important element in a collaborative divorce. You will still need to have an experienced divorce attorney to advise you through the mediation process and to help draw up a divorce agreement.
The first step in mediation is for you and your spouse to agree on this process in place of a court trial. If you have trouble agreeing to this, it may be a red flag that mediation is not for you. Other reasons to avoid mediation include:
- A marriage in which there has been abuse. The abused spouse may prefer to have an attorney do all the negotiating on his or her behalf.
- A case in which one spouse intends to delay the divorce proceedings and/or delay paying child support. A mediator cannot order either spouse to do anything. If you suspect your spouse has the intention to delay, mediation is not your best option.
Once mediation is agreed upon, your attorney can refer you to a mediator. A mediator is a person trained to act as a facilitator between you and your spouse. The mediator often will begin the process with individual telephone conversations with you and your spouse. The mediator’s purpose will be to gather background information about your family, the issues in the divorce, and the perspective of each spouse. Before speaking with the mediator, it’s best to have a conversation with your attorney to clarify these points in your own mind.
The mediation begins with a meeting in an office or conference room with the mediator, you and your spouse. You may bring your attorney, but usually, this is done with the agreement of the mediator and both spouses. Typically, you try the first mediation session without the attorneys present.
Going into mediation, your attorney should have helped you to clarify your positions on many important issues. If there are underage children in the marriage, good child custody lawyers will tell you that issues of child custody and child support are likely to be where the mediator will start. Other financial issues and division of property usually come later.
Remember that a mediation is not about ‘winning’ but about arriving at an agreement that both sides can live with. The most productive way to go into mediation is to realize:
- Neither side will get everything he or she wants;
- The mediator is there to facilitate discussion and lead both sides to recognize ways to compromise;
- The longer you remain in mediation, the more costly it will be.
When all issues have been addressed and compromises have been reached, your attorney should draw up the agreement. This may be the first time you’ve gone through a divorce, but your attorney has been through the process multiple times before. Having the benefit of your attorney’s experience is truly invaluable.
The best advice is to strive for an agreement that you can live with in the long run. Of course, it’s possible that your family’s needs will change at some point, and you will need to alter the child custody agreement or some other part of the agreement. You can accomplish this at a later date. To get the most out of divorce mediation, bring a willingness to let your mediator and attorney lead the way toward an agreement that works for your family’s benefit for the foreseeable future.