Divorce Mediation – What Is It?
Divorce mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a couple negotiates a divorce agreement with the help of a trained, impartial third party known as a mediator. Mediation has a large number of benefits when compared with other approaches. Normally it is done in person but online mediation is also possible using videoconferencing.
At the beginning, the couple and the mediator review and sign an “agreement to mediate” which sets out the guiding principles and ground rules for the mediation. A series of sessions then take place in which the mediator facilitates discussions regarding division of assets and debts, spousal support, and, if minor children are involved, child support and a parenting plan. Typically numerous decisions will need to be made. The mediation sessions take place in an informal, comfortable setting. Usually the mediator will mediate with the couple together in “joint sessions” but sometimes with everyone’s agreement the mediator will meet separately with each spouse.
Before and between sessions there will normally be “homework” for the couple to do in order to be well prepared. Most of this homework will involve information about the couple’s finances. After each session, the mediator will write up the key results of the session and email it to each spouse. Sometimes matters of substance will continue to be discussed via email but for the most part they are left for discussion in the “in person” sessions.
Divorce mediation is an assisted negotiation process. The mediator helps you carefully consider everything relevant and assists you in coming to your own agreements. The mediator does not decide anything for you and steers clear of giving you advice, preferring instead to empower you make your own well-informed decisions.
Obviously there will often be disagreements and sometimes the process may appear to be stuck. It is part of the mediator’s training to help find a way through these difficult areas.
It may take anywhere from one to six sessions or more for everything to be resolved. Two to four sessions is common. The mediator will make sure you cover all the areas the court requires to grant a divorce. You can also choose to include matters above and beyond what the court requires, such as any plans to pay for college education for the children.
As you reach agreements the mediator documents them for you. When everything has been resolved, the mediator will write up all of your agreements in a clear and simply-worded Memorandum of Understanding.
The above summarizes my approach to divorce mediation. Other mediators approach it differently but still assist you in all the decision-making necessary for your divorce. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about choosing mediation.