Divorce is the unfortunate outcome of some marriages, and it is undeniably challenging for couples for a number of reasons. It is primarily a legal process that to some extent must be processed through the court system. The process involves dividing all marital assets and debts, determining child custody arrangements, finalizing plans for child support and alimony, and often much more. Both sides clearly have a lot at stake, and there are often negative emotions related to the end of the marital relationship and fear of the uncertain future. Disputes between divorcing spouses are extremely common, and they can magnify the amount of turmoil and stress on both parties and their children. Many divorcing couples find that they are able to work through these challenges using a process known as mediation.
What Is Mediation?
Generally, when divorcing spouses cannot come to an agreement on how to resolve one or all issues related to the dissolution of the marriage, the court will ultimately have to make a final determination for them. A judge may decide in one party’s favor, but they have the discretion to make any decision that they deem reasonable, which sometimes leads to a result that neither party is satisfied with. Often, it is in the best interests of both spouses to come to an agreement on their own without court involvement. This gives the parties the opportunity to come up with an arrangement that they are both agreeable to rather than rolling the dice by letting a judge decide for them.
Mediation is an alternative process that may assist parties in reaching a final resolution. A third-party mediator who is completely neutral and impartial will guide the parties through a structured discussion about the issues in dispute, and explore potential options for resolving them. This professional facilitates constructive, respectful communication and often attempts to help each party to see the other’s perspective. A mediator may offer creative solutions for both parties to consider. However, the mediator is not a decision-maker in the process, and cannot provide legal advice. His or her goal is to help both parties come to a mutually acceptable agreement. Keep in mind that mediation may involve just the parties and a mediator, or the parties may choose to have their attorneys participate; in the latter case, the parties and their attorneys are often separated into different rooms, with the mediator going back and forth between them.
What Happens During Mediation?
While the primary goal of mediation is to facilitate a resolution that both parties find acceptable, there are a few secondary goals. For example, mediation may be preferred because it can be less hostile and less expensive than traditional litigation. Mediators may be appointed by the court or selected mutually by both parties based on the circumstances and the particular jurisdiction. When the divorcing couple is permitted to choose a mediator, the individuals should focus on a mediator’s training as an attorney, and experience with family law matters.
The first step in mediation is usually a general caucus, where both parties meet in one room to go over the mediation rules and format. The mediator may invite the parties to share their respective objectives and positions, and at some point the mediator will determine whether it appears that the parties will be able to effectively continue their discussions in the same room. If the mediator separates the two parties, he or she will go back and forth between their rooms to discuss specific points and to present offers and explanations. There is considerable leeway related to the structure of the mediation based on the level of animosity or emotional instability stemming from one or both parties.
The spouses are not obligated to come to an agreement in mediation. If they reach an impasse after one or more meetings, the mediator may recommend that they terminate the process and engage attorneys. If an agreement is reached in mediation, the mediator will prepare a formal written settlement agreement for the parties to review with their attorneys and sign. A signed settlement agreement will ultimately be filed with the court when the divorce is finalized.
Why Is Mediation Beneficial?
Given the choice of fighting a long and expensive battle in the courtroom or attempting to negotiate an agreement using mediation, the benefits of mediation are often very clear. Both parties in a mediation may benefit in these critical ways:
- Mediation is more affordable than divorce litigation.
- Unlike in court proceedings, all matters discussed in mediation are private and confidential.
- A mediated divorce can be finalized significantly faster and often with less stress.
- Reduced conflict during the divorce makes the process easier on children.
- Both parties are empowered to negotiate terms that are agreeable to them and to take responsibility for the outcome of the mediation.
- Mediation supports the ability to create a customized solution that meets the needs and interests of both the parties and their children.
- A mediated divorce agreement cannot be appealed, whereas a divorce court’s decision is almost always subject to an appeal.
- Collaboration during mediation fosters an improved problem-solving approach that is essential for positive parenting going forward.
- Friendships and community relationships may be preserved more easily by both parties because of minimized stress and turmoil.
- Most mediators are skilled in helping the parties find closure for the dissolution of the marriage, which can the stage for healthy healing.
How Can Mediation Make Divorce Easier?
Mediation fosters a mutually acceptable agreement between the two parties that is both equitable and legally sound. Because both parties may come to a creative agreement that takes into account the children’s unique needs and other factors that are specific to the family, the process may be less stressful and more productive overall. Often, the stress of litigating in court and hoping a judge rules in your favor is substantial, and this can be avoided altogether through mediation.
Financial concerns are common during a divorce as well. These concerns may arise over dividing assets and debts equitably. They may involve the possibility of relocating the kids from their home if the house needs to be sold. Alimony and adjustments to a new quality of life can be stressful for both parties as well. These stressors are often combined with the expense of a divorce. A litigated divorce can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Mediation is more affordable, and it may establish a financial agreement that works well for both parties and for the children of a divorce.
Learn More Today
Mullett Dove & Bradley Family Law specializes in all aspects of family law, including pre-divorce planning, child custody disputes, mediation, and more. Whether the terms of your divorce will be decided in a courtroom or through mediation, contact Mullett Dove & Bradley Family Law today.