When a couple wants to end their marriage, litigation isn’t the only option. Divorce mediation may be a valuable tool for spouses who want to work together rather than against each other during their split.
Mediation is a process by which couples resolve issues and end their marriage with the help of an impartial third party. Divorce mediation is legally binding, just like traditional litigation, but couples negotiate their divorce settlement through a more constructive process that ideally ends in a win/win for both parties. Couples can resolve all issues related to separation and divorce, including child custody, child and spousal support, and the division of assets, through mediation.
Mediators are typically lawyers, judges, social workers, marriage counselors, or therapists who are trained in family and divorce mediation. They understand the options available to divorcing spouses and are well-versed in techniques to keep the process as productive and peaceful as possible. As opposed to a divorce litigator, who represents one party, mediators are impartial and aim to achieve the best outcome for both parties.
Why Choose Mediation?
Mediation works best for couples who can maintain some level of communication, empathy, and understanding. It tends to be more beneficial than litigation when spouses have the same overarching goals or motivations for getting a divorce.
Mediation can be used before, after, in place of, or in conjunction with traditional divorce litigation. Although having an attorney is not required, having an advocate on your side may be helpful. Many people also consult with an attorney before engaging in meditation to confirm that it’s the right choice.
The benefits of mediation include:
- Cost savings: The average divorce mediation in New York costs between $5,000 and $9,000. [found here: snapdivorce.com] This amount can vary depending on the number of sessions and the complexity of the divorce, but mediation is often significantly less expensive than divorce litigation.
- Privacy: Except in rare cases, mediation is 100% confidential. In divorce litigation, on the other hand, all documents are considered public record. Mediation may be a good option if your family is in the public eye or you are concerned about private information getting released.
- Complete control over your settlement: When courts get involved, they can make certain decisions on behalf of spouses who cannot come to an agreement. For example, New York State has a standard child support calculation that couples may be required to use. In mediation, couples have more power to decide what their divorce settlement will look like.
- Quicker resolution: Even if couples are motivated to resolve divorce litigation quickly, they are at the mercy of the court’s schedule and legally required deadlines and waiting periods. Mediation can take just a few sessions, and the parties can adjust the timing of the process to meet their needs.
- Less conflict: Mediators are trained to keep the process respectful and productive. While litigation is inherently conflictual, mediation allows the parties to decide issues calmly and with their children’s best interests in mind.
Mediation isn’t for everyone, however. Litigation may be more appropriate when cooperation is impossible; when the parties don’t agree on getting divorced; when there is a history of abuse in the relationship; or when one spouse is engaging in misconduct like hiding assets or alienating the child from the other parent. In these cases, it may be necessary for the court to step in.
The Divorce Mediation Process
Mediation typically begins with an orientation session. The mediator will get a sense of the parties’ goals, thoroughly explain the process, and introduce the parties to mediation best practices, such as waiting for the other person to finish speaking. The mediator may request that the spouses provide background information, such as tax returns or a list of assets.
After orientation, the couple will attend a series of sessions to discuss marital issues, including child support, custody, spousal support, and the division of marital property. Sessions may last between one and four hours each, with the total number of sessions depending on the complexity of the divorce. The goal of these sessions is for the parties to understand each other’s needs and resolve issues in a way that works for everyone.
Once the parties have come to a conclusion about all issues, the mediator will prepare a draft settlement agreement summarizing what the spouses have decided. This document is not binding until each party’s reviewing attorney reviews it and the parties sign it before a notary public. Couples will have the opportunity to revise the agreement before signing it. They can also return to mediation to adjust support or custody in the future.
While divorce is always challenging, it doesn’t need to be conflictual. Mediation is a useful resource for spouses who want to work collaboratively to resolve divorce issues. A divorce attorney can advise you on the best course of action if you are considering mediation.