What is divorce mediation?

Thinking or talking about divorce is usually not something that’s considered fun. It’s likely a difficult time in your life, especially because you’re trying to figure out what’s best for you, your family, and your spouse. During this confusing time, things can get even more complicated when you add the legal aspects to getting a divorce. There’s the lawyers, the court fees, the depositions, and much more. Luckily, there’s a way to avoid costly trials – divorce mediation.

Instead of going before a judge and discussing your assets and issues, divorce mediation involves meeting with a professional, specifically trained third-party to talk about your issues and help figure out who gets what at the end of the day when your divorce is finalized. In divorce mediation, you work with your partner and your mediator to ultimately come up with a voluntary agreement, which can also help you avoid the costs of a divorce – both monetarily and emotionally.

How does divorce mediation work?

Finding a Mediator

If you think that divorce mediation may work for you and your family, you first need to find a mediator. While this step may seem obvious, it’s vitally important that you remember that your mediator will be working with you and your spouse throughout the process. 

You’ll likely be spending a good amount of time with this person, and will need to share various details of your life together, what assets you have, how your family functions, etc. As a result, you need to make sure you find someone who can be completely objective and neutral, but also someone you can be comfortable sharing these details with. 

There are also different styles of mediation. With facilitative mediation, your mediator will work with you to foster a safe space in which both parties can communicate constructively, rather than through aggressive or defensive behavior. 

Evaluative mediation works in situations where a divorce may be extremely complex, and there is a general lack of clarity as to the position of the parties and the outcome both individuals want at the end of the day. Evaluative mediators will work with you to help explain the legal doctrine behind your issues, and will try to clarify complex factual situations. 

Lastly, transformative mediation gets more to the emotional side of your divorce. Here too, the mediators attempt to create a safe space for both parties, but the focus is on reacting to conflicts that have occurred on a deeper level. It’s great for those that are interested in taking the conflict inherently involved in divorce and using it to transform yourself spiritually and mentally. 

Regardless of the style of mediator you choose, you need to make sure that your professional has trained extensively in conflict resolution. If there are children involved, it’s a great idea to pick someone who also has experience working with children. At the end of the day, you need to be comfortable with this person, so take your time in finding your mediator. 

What does divorce mediation cover?

Because divorce mediation leaves the couple in charge of how the divorce will proceed and the divorce agreement as a whole, your divorce mediation can typically cover any aspect of your marriage that you have a disagreement about. 

Typically, divorce mediators can help you come to conclusions about a variety of things, like how your assets and liabilities will be distributed between the two of you when your divorce is finalized; which parent gets custody of the children (if there are any), and how time will be split between the two parties; how child support will be doled out, and how much will be made available; where retirement funds will go to; and who will pay taxes on what assets.  

Steps of mediation

Usually, divorce mediations have five stages. They may not be in this order exactly, and some may be repeated or woven into other stages of the mediation – depending on your mediator – but it’s important that your process involves these five steps. 

  • Introductory Stage

The introductory stage of mediation is arguably the most important, as this is where you and your partner set the tone for how the rest of the mediation will go. At this point, your mediator will go over how the process will work, and talk to you about what you both are looking for at the end of the mediation. 

During this point of the mediation, you’ll go over background information about you and your family. You’ll likely talk about things like why you’re getting a divorce, what issues you are hoping to resolve, etc. This is also where the mediator will learn how well you both communicate with each other, which will help them to figure out how they can best work with both of you throughout the process. 

  • Information-Gathering Stage

At this point during the mediation, your mediator will start gathering information on what the two of you are ultimately disagreeing on. Here is where you will inform them about your assets, any children, insurance policies, retirement plans, or anything else you hope that they will help you resolve. 

During this stage, you will likely need to get things like financial documents, bank statements, and mortgage payments, to list a few. The more thorough you are here, the better your mediator will be at helping you come to an agreement at the end of the day that fits you and your partner.

  • Framing Stage

The framing stage involves discussing what each spouse wants when the divorce is finally settled. Knowing the desired outcomes of both parties will help the mediator to direct the course of the divorce mediation. These sessions can be conducted with either both parties in the room, or separately, depending on the mediator’s style and the couple’s ability to communicate. 

  • Negotiating Stage

At this point in the process, both parties will work with the mediator to go over options as to how things will be divided when the divorce is finalized. With the couple’s individual goals in mind (obtained during the framing stage), the mediator will help you come to agreements that work best for the both of you, especially regarding the things that are most important to you. 

  • Concluding Stage

The concluding stage is when the mediator will put into writing the agreement you and your spouse came to regarding the issues of your divorce. At this point, it’s vital that you take this written agreement to an advisor that has only your interests in mind, so that you can confirm that what you are getting at the end of the day works best for you. 

This written agreement, once it’s signed and agreed to by both parties, will later be filed with the courts. In completing this process, your divorce will become finalized.

How long does divorce mediation take and what are the costs?

Divorce mediation can be a long process, due primarily to the emotional investment both parties have to figuring out what is best for themselves and their families. While mediation length varies depending on the complexity of the issues surrounding the divorce, usually, couples can come to an agreement between 4 and 10 sessions, spanning over a period of 90 days. In terms of costs, again, while mediation fees will depend on the length and complexity of your case, usually mediation cases average around $3,000.

While these numbers may seem high, it’s important to note that they are much lower than the typical cost and length of an average divorce case that has to go to court. If a divorce is litigated, prices can average upwards of $15,000, and take over a year to settle. As a result, divorce mediation can often be a great option for couples looking to settle the issues of a divorce without the added cost and emotional heartache divorce litigation can bring.

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