What Exactly Is Divorce Mediation?

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When considering divorce and beginning the research process, you will come across many terms describing methods of negotiating a divorce settlement. It is important for you to acquaint yourself with these terms, and discuss them with an attorney, to ultimately choose the divorce approach that is best suited to your situation.  Mediation is a term that you will likely come across when researching divorce, and while not appropriate for every divorce, it is a viable option for some couples.

The Basics of Mediation

By definition, mediation is “intervention between conflicting parties to promote reconciliation, settlement, or compromise.”  In mediation, a neutral third-party, called a mediator, is hired to meet with a couple to hear, discuss and resolve the issues of a divorce.  Mediators do not make decisions for a couple, but rather facilitate conversation and assist couples in reaching agreements that are best for both parties. Using mediation is voluntary, and all parties must consent to participate in good faith and work together toward resolving issues. However, parties are not bound to resolve their dispute.

A successful mediation requires two parties who are willing to meet, negotiate and compromise.  This option should not be avoided simply because there are disagreements between the parties that seem too large to overcome. When everyone is committed to the process, mediation can be very effective.

Mediation’s Benefits

Mediation has quite a few benefits over other options for negotiating a divorce settlement.  Many mediations end in a settlement of all the issues in your divorce, and while you can still have a lawyer to provide legal advice, ultimately you and your spouse make the decisions rather than the depending on the court. Mediation is a more private process with no public record of the content of the sessions.

Couples may also choose mediation to help them come to agreement on a single divorce related issue or document. Commonly, couples are assigned to a mediator by the court when having difficulty finalizing their parenting agreement. 

Because mediation is a cooperative process between parties, and they are in control, it can serve to improve overall communications.  Additionally, avoiding trial or hearings is a much less expensive option. Since parties work together to reach terms and, therefore, are more comfortable with them up front, agreements reached in mediation are followed much more consistently than other types of agreements or orders.  This fact may also help avoid costly disagreements in the future.

The Mediation Process

Once you have hired a mediator, there will usually be a phone call during which background information will be collected about your situation.  Following this, you will have your initial mediation meeting where your spouse will be present. If you have an attorney they may attend the meeting, but it is not necessary and will be less costly if they do not.  However, if your spouse insists his or her attorney be present, you should consider doing the same.

The mediator will explain what you can expect during the process and give you and your spouse an opportunity to speak about your situations.  Many times the mediator will begin with discussion of areas where the parties are in agreement, and then move on to negotiations.  Upon completion of the negotiations, any agreements can be put into writing and incorporated into your divorce paperwork.

When parties are prepared and willing to work together to negotiate a divorce settlement, mediation is an effective, mutual and low-cost way to settle differences and complete a divorce.  In addition to his Family Law practice, Ronald L. Hendrix is a court-appointed mediator holding a Master’s degree in guidance and counseling.