Divorce mediation is an increasingly popular tool that can help couples get through a divorce more quickly, with less conflict and stress, and with less financial strain. Often couples who use mediation early in the process—even before they file the initial paperwork—are able to reach a marital settlement agreement, file for an uncontested divorce, and complete their divorce without having to hire lawyers. But mediation can help at any point in the process of ending your marriage, right up until a divorce trial—or when disputes arise after your divorce is final.
Of course, the mediation itself could cost, even if it saves you money in the long run. How much you'll end up paying depends on several factors, including:
Cost of Private Divorce Mediation
Several factors affect how much you'll pay a private mediator or mediation service, but the total bill is typically between $3,000 and $8,000 (usually divided with your spouse).
Most divorcing couples turn to private mediators or mediation services when they're looking to resolve some or all of the practical and legal issues in their divorce (more on that below). It would be almost meaningless to pinpoint an average cost for private mediation, because the amount you might pay depends on your unique circumstances, as well as the mediator's rate and professional background. That's why it makes more sense to look at the range of typical total costs for private divorce mediation: between $3,000 and $8,000. Because divorcing couples usually split that bill, each would typically pay about $1,500 to $4,000.
If that seems like a lot of money, it's worth pointing out that the cost of divorce is usually much higher when you have to go to divorce court. Also, the amount you pay for mediation will depend on the mediator's rate of compensation and how long it will take to reach an agreement with your spouse.
Private mediators or mediation services quote their fees in one of two basic ways:
Different elements go into the hourly rate, especially the following:
While you can generally save money by using a mediator who's not a lawyer, the difference in hourly rates shouldn't be the only deciding factor. Attorney-mediators might be more effective in certain cases where a lawyer is best situated to explain the legal options to the couples and troubleshoot potential agreements for unexpected legal consequences. But mediators with training in counseling can be better at helping couples find creative solutions and communicate more effectively, while mediators with financial expertise (like certified divorce financial analysts) might be the best choice for couples with complex assets.
Most mediation services (and some individual private mediators) charge a flat rate for mediating a divorce. Flat-rate mediation packages typically cost $4,000 to $5,500. Usually, there will be a limit on the hours or sessions included in the flat fee, with an extra charge if you need more time. Some mediation services will offer a flat rate for unlimited hours, but they'll generally evaluate your case before quoting you the fee.
Obviously, a flat-rate package takes the uncertainty out of estimating the cost of divorce mediation. But there are situations when paying by the hour or session can save you money. For instance, some couples are able to agree on their own about most of the issues in their divorce but need help from a mediator with just one or two sticking points. In that case, the mediation process will probably go more quickly, and it should cost less to pay the mediator per hour or session than a one-size-fits-all flat rate.
Unless you're using a mediation service that charges a flat fee, how can you know ahead of time what the total bill will be? Mediators who charge by the hour might give you an estimate based on the complexity of your case. For example, divorce mediation usually takes longer when:
The number and complexity of these issues could also affect the type of mediator who would be best suited to work with you (as discussed above).
Finally, other personal circumstances—especially the level of conflict or cooperation in your relationship—could impact how long it might take to mediate a settlement—or even whether mediation will work for you at all.
Whenever you and your spouse haven't been able to agree on a parenting plan for your minor children, the courts in most states will require you to mediate those issues. In some states, judges may order you to mediate other divorce issues. And some states allow couples to request court-based mediation (even when a judge hasn't ordered it) after they've filed for divorce.
Depending on your state, court-sponsored mediation programs usually offer services at no cost, low cost, or on a sliding scale based on your income. Most of these programs provide mediation only for custody and visitation issues, and they generally limit the number of hours allowed.
Even if a judge has ordered you to mediation, you can always choose to use a private mediator or mediation service rather than the one provided through the court system. As long as you can afford it, this might be a more efficient way to resolve all of the issues in your divorce at once, particularly when some of those issues are interconnected (such as when the parent who is seeking primary physical custody of children also wants to stay in the couple's house with the kids).
If the issues you need to mediate aren't covered by court-sponsored mediation where you live, and you can't afford private mediation, you might be able to find low-cost community mediation in your area (through the National Association for Community Mediation or another nonprofit organization). When you're exploring this option, be sure to ask about the volunteer mediators' qualifications and training in divorce issues.
In addition to the fee for the mediator or mediation service, you will have to pay court fees to file your divorce papers. These fees range from about $100 to $400, depending on where you live. In addition, you might have to pay fees to serve papers on your spouse and to file other documents with the court.
Depending on your situation, you might have additional expenses, such as: