Couples in the early stages of separation or divorce may want to consider the mediation process. While mediation may not be appropriate in certain divorce situations, in a vast number of proceedings, mediation can be a cost-effective and less emotionally draining option. In some situations, couples may use a blended approach where certain issues such as asset division are mediated. Other issues such as child and spousal support are determined in a more formal court proceeding.
In mediation, an unbiased and neutral third party talks through outstanding issues with each partner. The parties may meet separately or jointly with the mediator. In most cases, there is a combination of individual and joint meetings. Unlike more formal legal proceedings, the mediator does not make any decisions regarding the issues presented. Instead, the mediator facilitates agreement between the parties. Once the parties come to an agreement, even if it is only on a few issues, the parties will enter into a settlement that sets forth the details regarding the settled issues.
There is a number of benefits to using the mediation process for all or a portion of divorce proceedings. Emotionally, mediation may reduce anxiety levels due to potential arguments. Mediation often leads to joint custody arrangements, which generally have a long-term positive impact on the couple’s children, and it is generally less expensive than fully litigated divorce proceedings. Some industry studies indicate that mediated divorce proceedings can cost as much as 60 percent less than litigated divorces.
However, mediation is not appropriate in all divorce proceedings, particularly marriages where one or both spouses have a history of emotional or physical abuse. Successful mediation requires an atmosphere of respect and maturity. A family law attorney may be useful in helping clients determine if mediation of all or certain issues is a viable option in their divorce proceeding.