Mediation has become an increasingly popular way to settle disputes without getting a judge involved. Many couples use mediation during their divorce to reduce costs and eliminate the drama that often comes with litigation.
If this is your first divorce, you may have questions about how a divorce mediation works.
What exactly is divorce mediation?
Is divorce mediation worth it?
And if you have a mediator, do you also need a divorce attorney?
These are all good questions. You want to be proactive during your divorce so you’re as in control of the process as possible. That way, you’re less likely to end up in a messy courtroom battle.
So let’s answer all those questions.
What is divorce mediation?
Mediation is a way to privately settle disputes outside of court. In a divorce mediation, you and your spouse negotiate the terms of your divorce with the help of a professional mediator.
A mediator is not a lawyer or a judge. They do not make any decisions about your divorce, and they cannot offer legal advice.
Their role is to help you and your spouse communicate with each other and come to an agreement on each term of your divorce. These terms typically include:
- child custody and parenting time
- spousal support (alimony)
- division of property
- child support
Many states (including Georgia) now require mediation before parties can present their divorce to the court. Courts generally provide access to a court-appointed mediator for a certain number of hours. For example, you and your spouse would get two hours of mediation time free or at reduced cost with the mediator. If you haven’t reached a full agreement at that point, you can choose to continue and pay the mediator’s hourly rate. Or you can choose to litigate your divorce at that point.
Some parties may hire a professional mediator before they ever file a petition for divorce and involve the court. Most county courts provide lists of mediators that are licensed to handle family law cases.
If you and your spouse come to an agreement during the mediation, the mediator will draft a Memorandum of Understanding. This document outlines the terms of your agreement.
If you don’t come to an agreement on all the terms of your divorce during mediation, you’ll go back to the litigation process — either with or without an attorney.
Is divorce mediation worth it?
If you and your spouse haven’t been able to reach a full settlement agreement on your own or with the help of attorneys, then mediation may be a good next step. That’s especially true if you’re committed to avoiding a messy court battle.
Even when two parties are trying their hardest, they can’t always come to an agreement on their own. The end of a marriage is often emotionally charged, and negotiations can be challenging in that frame of mind.
A mediator is trained to help people cut through the noise and make agreements that both sides can accept. Mediators can also help you think outside the box to design solutions you may not have considered before.
Of course, not everyone reaches a resolution during a mediation session. Sometimes the issues are too complex, or the parties are too entrenched in their positions. Sometimes one person wants to compromise, and the other doesn’t.
If you haven’t come to an agreement on your own and you really don’t want to litigate in court, then giving your best effort in mediation is probably worth it. But be honest with yourself. If you’re out for blood or you won’t accept anything but a total win, then you probably won’t be successful in mediation.
How can a family law attorney help with divorce mediation?
You aren’t required to have an attorney to work with a divorce mediator. And there are certainly people who hire a mediator on their own or use a court-appointed mediator without the support of an attorney.
These individuals may reach agreements in mediation, but they do so without the benefit of legal advice.
Working with an attorney before you go to mediation means you enter the process knowing what your rights are. A good divorce attorney can help you identify red flags and understand what a reasonable offer is for each of the terms of your divorce.
Couples sometimes make agreements that could have serious pitfalls down the road. Without a legal background, neither may understand the potential future ramifications.
An attorney can ensure that you understand not only what you’re agreeing to now but how it could impact your future.
You can have your attorney with you during the mediation, or you could choose to work with your attorney only before and after the mediation.
Remember that the final document you receive at the end of a successful mediation is a Memorandum of Understanding. It’s not a divorce decree or a settlement agreement. If you don’t have an attorney, you’ll either need to hire an attorney to complete the settlement paperwork or draft it yourself.
If you do have an attorney, they will review the Memorandum of Understanding and create a settlement agreement for both parties to sign. They’ll file that settlement agreement with the court on your behalf.
Choosing a divorce mediation lawyer
What if you’re planning to use a private mediator, and you don’t have a lawyer yet?
Choose a divorce lawyer to represent you during your mediation who shows a commitment to out-of-court resolutions. Lawyers who specialize in uncontested divorces or amicable divorces have plenty of experience with mediation. And they’ll advise you with an eye toward settlement rather than a desire to win at all costs.
At Porchlight, we work with divorcing couples every day to keep things amicable and drama-free. Schedule a legal clarity session online to see whether we can help you with an upcoming divorce mediation.