A separation often brings up feelings of anger and resentment, but emotional conflict tends to make divorce more expensive. If you and your spouse want to avoid court hearings, discovery, finger-pointing, and a costly trial, you may benefit from divorce mediation. Continue reading to find out if it's right for you.
Divorce mediation is a process that allows divorcing couples to meet with a specially-trained, neutral third-party to discuss and resolve common divorce-related issues. Mediation is typically less stressful and less expensive than a divorce trial, and it usually proceeds much faster. Because you and your spouse have the final say over your divorce matters, mediation also allows couples to maintain the power and control in their divorce, as opposed to asking a judge to decide.
Mediation gives you and your spouse the opportunity to build your communication skills, even in situations where a lack of communication was the cause for the relationship’s demise. With the help of a trained professional, even the most communication-challenged couples can succeed in mediation.
There’s no doubt that divorce becomes more complicated when it involves children. Parents seeking a divorce will need to select a mediator who is trained to handle the various issues that come with divorce, like child custody, visitation, and child support.
Your mediator should be trained in conflict resolution and have extensive knowledge of your state’s divorce laws. Additionally, your mediator should be willing to work with you and your spouse to facilitate a meaningful conversation about the issues at hand, which can help eliminate the finger-pointing and other drama that usually accompanies divorce. Typically, mediators will keep you on track and may make suggestions to help you resolve any lingering issues. However, your mediator can’t make decisions for you, force either spouse to accept a term, or insist that either spouse sign a contract.
The mediation process starts once you and your spouse agree to use this method of alternative dispute resolution and choose your mediator. In most states, mediation is voluntary, so if either spouse disagrees and wants to follow the traditional divorce route, a court won’t force your spouse to engage in mediation. That said, there are some states where the court requires couples to demonstrate a good faith effort in mediation before scheduling additional court hearings.
Mediation will only work if both spouses are open to negotiating the terms of the divorce. Typically, you’ll set up an initial meeting between the spouses and the mediator. During the first meeting, each spouse will have the opportunity to explain expectations for the most common divorce-related issues, including:
Aside from statutory limitations of divorce, mediation doesn’t have a time limit. You can continue to mediate and work on your divorce judgment for as long as you, your spouse, and the mediator would like. Naturally, the longer it takes and the more meetings you have, the more expensive it becomes. You can decide to meet once per week, monthly, or at any other time. Most couples can resolve mediation with a few sessions, which typically costs thousands of dollars less than litigating your case in court.
Once you agree on all the outstanding issues, the mediator will draft a divorce settlement agreement for both spouses (and their attorneys) to review, sign, and present to the judge.
For some couples, working with your spouse and a mediator might be just what you need to obtain a divorce with as little conflict as possible. But, mediation will only work if you and your spouse are on the same page. You are more likely to have a successful mediation if all or most of the following statements are true.
You and Your Spouse Agree to Divorce
Despite what we see on television—or what we often hear from friends or family—not all divorces are contentious. In some cases, the decision to divorce is mutual. If you and your spouse agree that the marriage is over, you can file a petition for divorce together or, one spouse can file with the other’s knowledge. When you’re both on the same page, it’s often easier to negotiate and work together to find a resolution for any unresolved divorce issues in mediation.
There’s No History of Domestic Violence
With divorce mediation comes the need for frequent meetings involving both spouses, the mediator, and possibly attorneys. If you and your spouse have a history of domestic abuse, most mediators won’t take your case because it’s difficult to keep both spouses on track, and it’s challenging for the mediator to determine if the victim agrees to the settlement because of fear or intimidation from the abuser. In states that require mediation, if you can demonstrate a history of physical violence, the court will excuse you from the mandatory sessions.
Both Spouses Are Forthcoming About Finances
One of the most complicated parts of any divorce is the finances. Both spouses must be willing to provide the other (and the mediator) with sensitive information, including documentation relating to bank accounts, retirement, pensions, stocks, and all other assets and debts. In most marriages, it's common for one spouse to be more familiar with the family assets and liabilities than the other. If you don't have all the relevant financial information, you’ll need to investigate and understand your marital estate before you agree to a proposed property settlement.
You Agree on Custody Terms
Next to finances, child custody and visitation can be the most challenging aspect of divorce. Most parents can set aside their differences for the children’s sake, but sometimes even the best intentions are met with complications.
Divorce mediation is an excellent way to work with your co-parent to decide who should care for the children on a day-to-day basis, who should be responsible for paying child support, and the type and frequency of visitation with the non-custodial parent.
There’s no question that parents know what’s best for their children, and the most effective way to ensure that your judgment of divorce protects your children’s best interest is to negotiate the terms for custody with your spouse. If you discuss custody and reach a roadblock, your mediator may be able to offer advice or suggestions on how to resolve the issues without asking the court for help.
If you and your spouse disagree on custody, especially if there are allegations of abuse or neglect, you’ll need court intervention. The court will try to determine what arrangement is in your child's best interests by using your state’s custody process before the judge makes a final decision.