When you enter into marriage, it’s with the full intention of building a life together that will last until death do you part. No one walks down the aisle thinking that their marriage might not last.
Unfortunately, according to a recent Forbes article, about half of all first-time marriages will end in divorce. You might think subsequent unions would have a better track rate, but in fact, divorce rates are higher for second and third marriages. Even gray divorces are becoming more common as empty-nesters decide to call it quits.
While some couples can manage their split amicably, it’s common for couples with irreconcilable differences to disagree about how to divide assets or handle custody arrangements. Divorce can be a messy and complicated affair, not only because it’s so difficult to separate a joint lifestyle but also because of the heightened emotions involved.
Even when both parties decide a divorce is best, they may experience lingering feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, jealousy, and regret that cause them to behave in ways they wouldn’t normally. This can lead to a drawn-out court battle that hurts everyone, both emotionally and financially.
If you want to avoid this situation, one option to consider is divorce mediation. What is mediation? What benefits do you stand to gain by choosing this path to divorce? Is mediation right for you? Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision for your situation.
Divorce laws differ from state to state, but generally speaking, you’ll have to submit a filing with the court. In the case of an uncontested divorce, you must submit an agreement in writing (including the division of assets and child custody arrangements, if necessary) for the court to approve.
This is the path of least resistance for couples with no disagreements over the particulars of their separation.
Most states have additional requirements. For example, there may be a specific amount of time that a couple must be separated before the divorce is final. Some states also set a minimum amount of time that must pass between filing and finalization.
In such cases, you may pay only a few hundred dollars in filing fees, although many states have options to waive fees for those who can’t afford them.
This process assumes amicable relations between you and your spouse, but it’s common for some disagreement to occur, especially in longer marriages that involve ample assets and/or children. In such cases, you have a couple of options. You can go to court and let a judge settle the matter for you, or you can work with a divorce mediator.
A mediator is a professional trained to help divorcing parties come to a resolution on issues like the division of assets and child custody. Parties may bring lawyers to mediation, but it’s not required.
The job of a mediator is to facilitate productive discussions when couples are struggling to do so on their own. This person will help you talk through the finer points of separation while avoiding arguments, the airing of old grievances, or tangents that muddy the issue.
It is not the job of the mediator to make decisions. This professional simply helps you address issues, negotiate effectively, and reach an agreement that everyone can live with.
Mediation may proceed a bit differently for every couple, but it generally follows a few set steps.
The process begins with each party discussing the nature of the dispute and their goals for mediation. This will lead to a joint discussion where both parties have opportunities to state their case, ask questions, and get to the heart of the disagreement.
The mediator will also ask questions to gain a better understanding of each party’s position and the situation as a whole.
Additionally, the mediator may speak with each party individually to get a clearer picture without the influence of the other spouse present. Once the mediator has an idea of where each person stands and both parties are ready to start working toward a settlement, the negotiation process can begin.
If negotiations go well, the couple will make an agreement they both feel is fair, or at least feasible. The divorce agreement will be put in writing and signed, and it constitutes a legally binding contract. Alternatively, lawyers for the parties will create a settlement and release agreement to end the mediation and finalize the divorce.
Mediation is a happy medium for couples who can’t reach a divorce agreement on their own but would rather not take their issues to a courtroom setting. There are several benefits associated with choosing this option.
If your divorce goes to court, the outcome is no longer in your hands. Each side will present their case, and a judge will make the ultimate decisions regarding issues like the division of assets and child custody. This will likely leave at least one of the parties unsatisfied.
With mediation, the goal is for spouses to collaborate on solutions and reach a mutual agreement they’re both comfortable with. Whether you simply prefer an amicable separation with no hard feelings or you are forever linked through your children and want to move forward in a civil or even friendly manner, mediation could be the best option.
If one party is worried that an agreement made in mediation won’t work in a practical sense, the couple can take the time to try it out in the real world and adjust as needed before mediation is complete. Child custody and parenting coordination, for example, may require some flexibility that can only be worked out in practice.
Mediation is a client-driven approach to divorce, in which the couple has the power to decide the agenda and duration. You get to choose the outcomes together. A settlement is reached when both parties come to an agreement, and this usually ends with greater satisfaction on both sides.
While mediation may not work for every couple, especially in truly contentious or abusive situations, it can be a lifeline for couples who want to remain cordial, spare their children any additional hardship, and avoid the hassle and expense of going to court.
If you can’t settle disputes over the division of assets or child custody on your own, you might think court is your only option. But when you put your fate in the hands of the court, you’re on the court’s timeline. Hearings will be based on the court’s schedule, and your divorce could be delayed by any number of factors.
Contested divorces could take more than a year to finalize, according to Forbes, while the length of mediation depends largely on the parties involved and how motivated they are to reach an agreement.
If you think negotiation is possible, mediation for divorce will likely move faster than a court case. This is because the process is designed to seek solutions rather than allowing both parties to be pitted against each other.
You control the schedule and the topics discussed while your mediator works to help you reach a mutually beneficial solution. The result is a process that’s typically more efficient than court proceedings.
In case you didn’t know, court filings become public record. This means they are widely accessible and the content can be used later in subsequent court cases. If you want your personal business to remain private, mediation offers the confidentiality you prefer.
Within the confines of mediation, you and your spouse can discuss private matters in an open and honest way without worrying that what you say might become public knowledge. Any files your mediator creates during the process are kept confidential.
One of the primary reasons many couples try mediated divorce before going to court is that it’s not only faster in most cases but also far less expensive. The average divorce in the U.S. could cost you $15,000–$20,000, on average, although it could be significantly more or less. The median cost is about $7,000 — quite a chunk of change for most Americans.
When it comes to mediation, there are a couple of options to explore. Some mediators charge a flat fee that covers the entire process, often with a cap on the number of hours. This could cost you about $4,000–$5,500, which is still less than the average cost of a divorce that goes to court.
If you’re confident that you can resolve your issues with just a few hours of mediation, you may prefer to pay hourly. Attorneys offering mediation may charge about $250–$500 per hour, while non-attorney mediators are typically more affordable, with rates of $100–$350 per hour.
Before you choose, you need to be realistic about the scope of your divorce and how willing both parties are to negotiate.
Many couples are open to mediation as a means of solving their disputes and avoiding the high cost, lengthy timeline, and uncertain outcomes associated with court. However, you may reach a point where you realize you and your spouse will never reach an agreement, even with a mediator’s legal assistance for divorce.
In this case, you can always take the next step, set up a lawyer consultation, and head to court to present your case and allow a judge to decide. This is the last result for most people, but it’s still on the table, even if you start with mediation.
You’ll want to look for a trained mediator who has experience with situations or issues like yours (division of assets, child custody, or both), but you’ll also want to find someone who has a personality you can work with. This person should present as impartial, fair, receptive, and calm.
Only you can decide whether divorce mediation is right for you. If you and your spouse are willing to negotiate but just can’t manage to come to an agreement on your own, mediation is a great option to explore.
Are you interested in finding a mediator or learning more about mediation? DivorcePlus has the educational resources and on-demand virtual professional services you’re looking for. Contact an on-demand mediator today to see if mediation is right for you.