Divorce Mediation: What is It and How Much Will it Cost?
Introduction to Divorce Mediation
There are multiple ways to obtain a divorce. One way to go about it is through divorce mediation, a process where you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party. This third party helps facilitate your conversation with your spouse as you eventually come to an agreement about all elements of your divorce. These elements include dividing your assets and debt, potentially a custody agreement, and anything else that you two need to split. This article will explain what mediation is, its benefits, and what types of couples are good candidates for the process.
What is Divorce Mediation?
Mediation is when you and your spouse come to an agreement on all of the terms of your divorce with the help of a mediator. Lawyers are welcome to attend mediation, but it is never required to have a lawyer during mediation. A mediator is present as a neutral third party to make sure nothing gets too heated or whenever there is a disagreement, the mediator can try to parse out what you and your spouse are saying and try to find the middle ground.
Understanding Divorce Mediation
It’s critical to understand that a mediator is not your attorney. They cannot provide you with legal advice. Their sole purpose is to remain a neutral third party while you and your spouse discuss your negotiation. Often licensed divorce attorneys themselves, mediators may charge you by the hour or by “the package.”
In this article we are discussing private mediation. But there is also a “court-ordered mediation.” This is when a judge orders you and your spouse to attend a mandatory mediation session in a divorce proceeding. This is different from private mediation when a couple decides to use mediation as the means to attain a divorce.
Private mediation happens before you are divorced. You and your Soon-to-be-Ex will go to mediation together in hopes to come to an agreement before any litigation or your attorneys negotiate on your behalf.
Besides mediation, what are the other 3 ways to get divorced? Learn about them in “The 4 Types of Divorce and How to Know Which One’s Right for You.”
Mediation can be a good first step in your divorce before going to court and getting a judge involved. In fact, some judges in certain states will recommend that you go to mediation before scheduling a court date. But it is always a voluntary option.
SAS Tip: Regardless of what type of divorce model you decide on as you seek your uncontested divorce, we recommend that every woman secure a private legal consultation with a divorce attorney first, to hear what your rights are and what you are entitled to BEFORE you and your spouse start splitting things up.
Check out this piece on how to find a good divorce lawyer or this article for the important questions to ask a divorce attorney at a consultation.
If you and your spouse eventually agree on everything at mediation, the rest of your divorce will be relatively simple. The mediator will draft a settlement agreement for you to sign or have reviewed by a divorce attorney before signing. Alternatively, the mediator will provide you with a memorandum (also known as a Memorandum of Understanding – or MOU for short) that documents what you and your spouse agreed to during mediation. From there, you can have your attorney integrate it into your divorce settlement agreement.
If you wonder what other steps you could be taking to ensure your divorce goes as healthily as possible, read our “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.”
What are the Benefits of Divorce Mediation?
Probably the most enticing element of mediation is that it makes your divorce much cheaper than the opposite, the polar extreme of a highly contested divorce trial. The average cost of mediation is between $3,000.00 and $8,000.00; while the average cost of going to trial for a divorce is $4,100.00 for a completely uncontested divorce, and shoots up to an average of $20,400.00 for a trial on just one contested issue. The average cost of retaining a lawyer without going to trial averages out to about $10,600.00. So, among other benefits, there is a financial incentive for you and your spouse to take a shot at mediation before hiring a lawyer or going straight to court.
Maybe you don’t need mediation? Maybe you won’t get divorced?
Consider reading “What Percentage of Marriages End in Divorce?”
You also have more control in your settlement agreement during mediation. The mediator is not there to dictate what your settlement agreement will be, that is up to you and your spouse. If you two are in agreement on most things, and they are lawfully sound, then you just need your divorce settlement memorialized and written up. Mediation may be the best means to achieve your goals.
Is Divorce Mediation Right for You?
Mediation is a great tool if you and your spouse can work together and are on the same page about the division of assets, support, and custody arrangements. (Check out “Child Support: 5 Things Mothers Must Know.”)
Something else to keep in mind is that if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement during mediation, that is okay. If after mediation there is still no agreement, then that is when you would want to talk to an attorney about other strategies. You never have to agree to something you are not comfortable with during mediation.
SAS Tip: You can choose mediation and also be legally educated on your rights and private interests outside of the divorce mediation process. Read our “Hiring a Mediation Attorney Can Save You Money.”
When is Divorce Mediation Not a Good Idea?
Mediation, however, is not for every couple. It is important to understand that you and your spouse both need to be open and willing to talk with each other and come to an agreement that works for the two of you. If you know your spouse will not agree to anything that you want just to spite you, mediation may be futile.
If there is any sort of cheating, deception, hiding of funds or assets, power imbalance, financial imbalance, or anything else of the like between you and your spouse, then mediation is probably not the best course of action.
Other times when mediation is not a viable option is when there is a history of abuse, including emotional, physical, psychological, and financial. It there’s any alcohol abuse, a history of mental illness, or physical violence from any or both parties, these too are warning signs against mediation. These situations are not an exhaustive list, but the underlying fact is that you and your spouse need to be willing to work with each other, not against each other. In mediation, the power should be equally shared.
Mediation, while not for everyone, can be a good tool for securing your divorce. It saves you money and gives you more control over the terms of your divorce settlement. However, it is not for every couple and you have to decide if it is right for you. There are some situations where mediation is not appropriate, and instead, getting a lawyer right away may be your better option. Learning about mediation, however, is a worthy exercise. Asking yourself certain questions helps you understand more about the personality of your marriage, and in so doing, you better advocate for yourself.
Alexa Valenzisi is a 3L student in Chicago who is committed to child law and education law. She aims to work in education law or family law after graduation.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you and your precious life. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS now.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”