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How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?

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How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?

The average divorce mediation lasts 5 to 10 hours (one full-day or half-day session). Typically, this is enough time for our mediator to prepare for and conduct mediation with the parties. Mediation can be this quick and efficient if the parties are prepared and committed to settling their divorce.

Of course, that is just the average amount of time it takes from the mediator’s perspective.

Parties spend significant time preparing for mediation to achieve the 5 to 10 hours completion time. Preparation has the most significant impact on the length of divorce mediation. Other variables like the complexity of the divorce, scheduling conflicts, and the parties’ cooperation can all increase the time and sessions necessary to reach an agreement.

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The Average Length of Divorce Mediation

As mentioned above, mediation can usually be completed in one full-day or half-day session–5 to 10 hours total, including actual time in mediation and the mediator’s time in preparation. Making the cost of mediation an affordable and efficient form of alternative dispute resolution.

We find this to be true both when serving as the mediator and when serving as a divorce attorney–representing clients and providing legal advice in mediation.

To better understand the time it takes, below is an example of how a typical divorce mediation works from the mediator’s point of view.

In a typical mediation at our office, the mediator will review the parties’ confidential mediation memorandums and prepare a general outline of what they think a resolution might look like (approximately 2 hours).

This initial work is vital for a successful mediation.

Of course, this is not arbitration. The mediator does not make the decisions for the parties and does not know what the end agreement will look like. The end agreement may look nothing like their outline. Still, this brainstorming time can be the difference between a quick and efficient mediation and a mediation that drags out into many sessions or is ultimately unsuccessful.

Then the mediator will conduct the mediation.

We usually have the parties arrive at 9:00 am so we can get started as soon as our office opens. For a divorce mediation, even if the session is only scheduled for a half-day, we usually block out the full day for the mediator whenever possible.

Blocking out a full day for the mediator, whenever possible, is our standard practice because we have all been in the mediation where we are close to reaching an agreement. Still, the mediator has a meeting or some other obligation, shortening the time available for mediation.

When the parties arrive, we typically separate them into their conference rooms or offices.

The mediator will then go between conference rooms, relaying offers and counter-offers until they reach a resolution. Once an agreement is reached, the mediator will then memorialize the settlement and have the parties sign the agreement (3-8 hours).

So, in our office, the typical divorce mediation is usually completed in a half-day or full-day session (5-10 hours).

That may not sound like enough time, although it may be more than the time a case would be given for a final family law trial here in Maricopa County when parties are prepared and committed to resolution–it can absolutely be enough time to complete the divorce mediation.

Of course, there are situations where more than a half-day or full-day session is needed. A couple of common factors affect the length of divorce mediation.

Factors That Affect the Length of Divorce Mediation

A couple of common factors affect the length of the mediation or the number of sessions.

The most common is the preparedness of the parties and their counsel (if represented at mediation). Other factors, like the divorce’s complexity and the parties’ availability, can also impact the time it takes to conclude the mediation.

Being Prepared for Mediation

Preparedness is the number one factor that affects the time necessary for mediation.

Are you ready for mediation? Did you put in the leg work to ensure you are prepared to discuss the issues in your divorce? Typically, the more prepared parties are, the less time mediation takes and the more likely the parties will have a successfully mediated divorce. 

We mentioned above that the mediator will take time to prepare for the mediation, but the parties and their counsel should be well prepared too. Parties and their counsel usually spend significantly more time preparing for the mediation than the mediator.

For example, we follow the following general process in our office when we are preparing to represent a client in mediation:

1. Ensure Disclosure and Discovery Is Complete

Mediation is about resolving the outstanding issues in your divorce and reaching a settlement agreement with the help of a neutral third party. If you have to divide the debt but don’t know what the debt is, you are unlikely to be able to reach an agreement.

So, knowing the information necessary to make a decision on the outstanding issues in your case is crucial. This information is usually obtained through the formal disclosure and discovery process–exchanging and obtaining information.

2. Prepare a Comprehensive Confidential Mediation Memorandum

Taking the to draft a detailed Mediation Memorandum can significantly improve the efficiency of mediation.

The Mediation Memo is the first opportunity to confidentially tell your mediator how you want to settle the case. It is also an opportunity to explain why.

The why is important because you may be able to overcome a hurdle in settlement by achieving the same goal of the request but by different means. From a third-party perspective, knowing the why is where a mediator can see where room for settlement exists.

3. Prepare the Client for Mediation

When representing clients for mediation, we discuss the mediation process with the client and what to expect.

Since this isn’t a formal court hearing with direct and cross-examination, the client preparation meeting or phone call doesn’t take as much time as preparing for a final trial would. But discussing the goals, the process, and what the client should expect is still important to the divorce mediation process.

4. Participate In Mediation

Then we have the time involved in actually participating in the mediation, and a divorce lawyer meeting with the client a little early to go over any last-minute questions is not uncommon.

For more information on preparing for mediation, check out our divorce mediation checklist.

The Complexity of the Divorce

The complexity of the divorce can also impact the length of the divorce mediation.

We will see mediation split into more than one day in complex divorces. Sometimes, the mediation sessions will be split into topics or issues in complex divorce cases. Splitting divorce mediation sessions by issues works when the issues and agreements are not dependent on one another.

For example, let’s say we have a divorce where the parties have minor children involved and a complex financial portfolio.

Maybe on the first day or first session, we will address the kid’s issues. What is the parenting time going to be? What will the legal decision-making (child custody) orders be? What is the holiday schedule going to be? With advanced notice to the parties, we may take the first day to focus on those issues and get an agreement. 

Then, we would focus on the financial issues in the next session.

This split works because the parenting time and legal decision-making issues usually are not dependent on having the financial issues resolved. Child support does overlap and will usually be addressed during the day with more complexity.

This approach also works where the case’s complexity is in the children’s issues.

Maybe the children have special needs, or one of the parents has a complicated work schedule, and a lot of time and detail needs to go into the parenting time agreements so a useful parenting plan can be drafted.

Complexity doesn’t always mean there is a lot of money involved or many issues to resolve. 

Sometimes, complexity is created by the parties’ emotions and triggering problems. This arises in highly contested divorces, child custody cases, and spousal maintenance (alimony) cases.

This splitting topics approach can be beneficial in complex situations because:

  • It saves the parties money on the overall divorce mediation costs. You don’t want to be paying your business valuation expert to be sitting around listening to you decide who gets Thanksgiving in even years.
  • It can lead to more effective divorce settlement discussions. When the case’s complexity is more related to emotions, it is sometimes better to resolve the easy agreements before hitting the hot-button issues. Hitting the highly contested issues first can upset people to a point where settlement discussions get derailed, and it takes time to work through those issues to achieve a settlement.

While the complexity of the divorce can increase the time needed for mediation, proper preparation and planning can limit the impact.

Scheduling Availability of the Mediator and Divorce Parties

Another reason divorce mediation can take longer is the availability of everyone involved.

You are trying to find common availability between at least three people and sometimes more if attorneys represent the parties or need experts. Parties have work schedules, personal lives, and obligations with the children that can impact when they are available for mediation.

It may be weeks before everyone can find the same available time slot in their calendar.

Difficulty in scheduling is another reason to come to mediation prepared and focused on the settlement—you want to ensure you are using the time effectively.

Of course, everyone wants to get this over as soon as possible–that is one of the benefits that attracts people to private divorce mediation.

If you need to schedule mediation over multiple days or sessions, too much time between sessions can cause the mediation to be inefficient or even ineffective.

As mentioned above, a lot of preparation goes into mediation, and a lot of focus is needed for a successful mediation.

If there is too much time between sessions, you can lose focus and momentum in the negotiations. Another benefit of mediation is that parties come together and focus on reaching a resolution. Too much time between sessions can have a negative impact on the ability to reach a settlement.

The time between sessions is less of a problem when the mediation is divided to address separate, unconnected topics. But getting this resolved as quickly as possible should still be a priority.

Cooperation and Willingness of the Parties to Come to an Agreement

Suppose one or both parties are not cooperating in the mediation process and are not willing or focused on reaching an agreement to resolve the divorce. In that case, this can significantly impact the length of time needed for mediation.

An uncooperative party can increase the time needed for mediation and even require parties to return for multiple sessions.

The impact of an uncooperative party can appear in more ways than just people not having the documents or information they feel they need for mediation—which can result in the mediator canceling mediation before it even starts—it can also create or compound mistrust between the parties.

There is often a level of mistrust between divorcing spouses.

Mistrust can compound and snowball when one party is being uncooperative. The other party usually starts to feel they are hiding something. Or, they feel like they are digging in their heels and taking very litigious positions, which can cause the other party to do the same thing because they want to protect themselves.

While this is divorce litigation, the “I’ll see you in court” mindset isn’t conducive to settlement.

But, an experienced mediator can help parties work through this mistrust and get on track toward settlement.

Part of mediation is about coming to mediation with the appropriate mindset of working to resolve the case. If the parties aren’t focused on working to reach an agreement, it can take many hours to get everyone in the right mindset and ultimately make the mediation unsuccessful.

It can take the mediator time to work with the parties to get to a point where they are willing to reach an agreement. But if the mediator feels that there is no agreement possible and no amount of time will get the parties there, they will likely stop the mediation early.

Mediators do not want to waste the parties’ time if the process isn’t productive.

Related Resources

The Presence of Third Parties During Mediation

As mentioned above, sometimes third parties are needed in meditation to reach an agreement.

These third parties are usually experts in the case, financial advisors, appraisers, or other people whose advice—or even testimony at trial—is needed to reach an agreement.

Letting your mediator know in advance that these people will be necessary can help them plan the mediation. Often, experts can appear telephonically or virtually on an as-needed basis during the mediation. Telephonic or virtual appearance saves the clients money and helps increase the availability of the expert.

If the expert knows they just need to be available by phone, they do not necessarily need to clear their calendar for the whole day.

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With Preparation, Private Divorce Mediation Can Be a Quick Process

If divorcing couples are prepared for mediation and come willing to reach an agreement, a full divorce mediation can be accomplished in one day or less.

In most cases, mediation does not need to be stretched over several hours or days. Even in complex situations, an experienced and skilled mediator can schedule mediation sessions strategically to set the case up for a successful mediation.

Mediation is an important part of the divorce process. If you are looking for a private mediator to help resolve your Arizona divorce, call our office and schedule a consultation to discuss our mediation services and approach to the mediation process.

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