When a divorce is filed with the court, it can become an all-out battle, with each side presenting information in order to outdo the other side. Typically, divorce is seen as a combative process, where one spouse is pitted against another in order to obtain things like spousal support, property, and custody or visitation over minor children. While there are divorce cases that feel more like battles than lawsuits, generally, the court tries to facilitate a more amicable split between parties. While this can be hard, nearly all family law cases go through what is known as “mediation.”
What is Mediation?
The mediation process is an event that generally takes place between the discovery phase and the trial phase in a divorce case. There are times, however, when mediation can take place after a judgment is made, but this typically happens when parties make a motion to modify a judgment. The mediation process is one of several alternative dispute resolution processes and is focused on getting the parties to come to an agreement out of court. During this process, parties discuss a variety of topics that would normally be handled through the court process, including:
- Time-sharing and co-parenting
- Child support
- Paternity issues
- Parental responsibility
- Division of marital property
- Spousal support
While any decision in mediation is not binding until it is incorporated in a divorce decree, the mediation process can help parties discuss issues and come to creative solutions that might not be otherwise available. For example, if the parties own a pet and some property, but only one party cares for the pet while the other cares for the property, they could come to an agreement dividing the land based on their desires, as opposed to the standards of equity that most courts purport.
What to Expect
Typically, the mediation process will begin with an order from the court requiring the parties to attend mediation. Both parties will be scheduled for a mediation session in which they will meet together with a neutral third party, known as a mediator. The role of the mediator is to facilitate discussion between the parties and to try to help the parties reach an agreement outside of court. While a mediator is not a judge, and even though a mediator does not have any power over the outcome of your case, it is still important to cooperate with a mediator in your case. This is because a party’s cooperation can help facilitate new and unique solutions to matters that might not have been available within the court. Any information provided to a mediator will be confidential.
Even though the mediation is between the two parties and the mediator, each party may bring along his or her counsel. When divorcing parties arrive at the mediation, they will be in the same room unless there are extenuating circumstances that require separation between them. Mediators are also free to meet individually with parties in order to obtain additional or sensitive information. The mediation process begins with an introduction by the mediator, who will explain the boundaries, the purpose, and the goals of the mediation process. At this point, the parties can provide any information they feel is necessary in order to give the mediator some perspective.
While the parties can attend a mediation session without their attorneys, working with one through the mediation process can help a spouse avoid any unfavorable agreements or concessions that would hurt him or her in the long run. The parties should also meet with their attorneys beforehand in order to discuss their goals.
Issues with Mediation
While the mediation process is an excellent tool that allows parties to control how their case is decided, there are a few drawbacks to the process. One of the primary issues with mediation is that there is no requirement to reach an agreement. This can be especially problematic if the parties do not get along, or if there is significant tension between them. At the end of the day, the divorcing parties are the only ones that can agree to an offer or agreement outside of court.
While mediation is a quick and affordable solution to a divorce case, it does not always allow the parties to get to the truth of the matter. Due to the formal structure of the court, attorneys are afforded a variety of tools and methods that they can use in order to obtain the truth behind a matter. In mediation, however, there is no such structure and attorneys are left in the hands of the mediator, who may not be able to appropriately balance the needs of the parties.