How Does Mediation Work for a Divorce?

Divorce makes people think of sitting before a judge who decides the final settlement. Others picture hashing it out between themselves, their exes, and the divorce case lawyers. While many divorces settle in one of those two ways, you might be relieved to know there’s another possibility.

If you and your ex can’t come to an agreement on your own, but you want to avoid going to court, mediation might be the solution. Mediation is a middle ground between the spouses working out their own solution and putting things in the hands of a divorce court judge.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) method. If the parties of the divorce can’t agree on the terms of the settlement, they can choose to use mediation as an alternative to going to trial or court. In mediation, the divorcing parties sit down with a neutral third party. That mediator helps guide the conversation and aims to lead everyone to compromises that work for all involved.

Why Should I Consider Mediation?

The quickest divorce settlements are usually those settled by the spouses, with the support of a family law and divorce attorney who ensures everything is legal and properly documented. However, it often isn’t realistic for divorcing people to sit together, compromise, and agree on terms. This situation is where mediation comes in.

Mediation is less expensive and often faster than a trial. It also lets you make sure your priorities, concerns, and objections are heard and considered. Unlike a court case, mediation involves conversations and can last as long as needed to reach an acceptable outcome for all parties involved.

What Happens in Mediation?

Most mediation starts with a joint session between you, your ex, legal representatives, and the mediator. The mediator supervises the conversation, helping the parties find common ground. Your mediator can also help either parties understand when they have unrealistic expectations over things like custody, spousal support, or division of assets. If you tell your ex that something they want is unreasonable, they are unlikely to accept that. If the mediator says it, the ex may be more inclined to understand that they must adjust their expectations.

Your mediator helps relay information between parties when communication is strained. They interpret your concerns and look for ways to address them that are acceptable to the other party. By defining issues that are sticking points and reframing them, a mediator can assist you in coming up with an acceptable compromise.

What if I Don’t Like What the Mediator Suggests?

If your divorce goes to court, you have little recourse if you don’t like the terms once the judge rules on a settlement. You can go back to court and fight to change things, but that is a time-consuming, expensive process and may not be successful. The judge’s ruling is legally binding for both parties.

Mediation is different.

Your mediator will make suggestions and guide everyone toward acceptable middle ground. However, they don’t make decisions about your case. You do. You never have to agree to anything the mediator suggests or your ex requests or demands as part of the mediation process.

Mediation itself is non-binding.

Often, meditation leads to an acceptable compromise that works for everyone. If it does, each party can sign a legally binding agreement. If not, you can end the mediation. Then, your divorce will move over to the court system.

Do I Need to Testify and Share Private Information in Mediation?

Mediation is not court. It is a much more informal process. Your ex’s divorce lawyer can’t make a legal objection if you share an opinion or your story veers off-topic. You are not testifying. You are having a conversation.

That also means that your ex can’t demand that you turn over private documents or reveal personal information in mediation. They can ask for those things, and you may decide to share them. However, you are not legally obligated to do so. This ability to retain some privacy and control over personal information is one of many benefits of mediation.

Can I Have Divorce Attorney in Mediation?

Because this is a non-official process, there are very few rules. It is just a conversation to try to reach a consensus. You can have your lawyer present for the mediation sessions, but you aren’t required to have a lawyer present. You decide who you want to be present during the sessions.

You may be tempted to skip having an attorney with you. However, if you agree to divorce terms, you may sign a legally binding agreement at the end of your mediation. Without legal representation, you could end up agreeing to something that negatively affects you later on. There may be factors you fail to consider or terms you need help understanding. Even though it isn’t required, always retain legal counsel for your mediation process.

When Mediation Works

If you and your ex can’t agree on settlement terms but want to avoid court, mediation may be the right choice for you. It is a hands-on way to work toward compromise, with a neutral third-party mediator guiding the process, suggesting alternatives, and keeping the conversation on track. Successful mediation leads to a negotiated agreement that works for both divorcing parties. It can save you the stress, loss of control, time, and expense of going to court.

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